On August 15th, the US imposed sanctions on a Russian port service agency and Chinese firms for allegedly aiding North Korean ships and selling alcohol and tobacco to Pyongyang in breach of the imposed sanctions.
In a statement on the same day, the US Treasury announced that China-based Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading Co. Ltd and its Singapore-based affiliate SINSMS Pte. Ltd had profited more than $1 billion a year by exporting alcohol and cigarette products to North Korea. The Treasury also sanctioned Russian-based Profinet Pte Ltd and its director general, Vasili Aleksandrovich Kolchanov, for providing port services on at least six occasions to North Korean-flagged ships.
“The tactics that these entities based in China, Singapore, and Russia are using to attempt to evade sanctions are prohibited under U.S. law, and all facets of the shipping industry have a responsibility to abide by them or expose themselves to serious risks,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.
The sanctions forbid any US citizen or company to do business with any of the sanctioned targets and any property they may have in the US “must be blocked.”
In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Beijing has always strictly enforced all UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea and that it forbids Chinese firms or individuals from taking part in actions in violation of them. “At the same time, China’s position on opposing countries enacting unilateral sanctions on other countries and ‘long-armed jurisdiction’ is consistent and clear,” the statement added, without providing further information.
Liang Ye, a legal representative of Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading commented that the matter was still unclear and that the Chinese company had received no notification.
Xinhua News Agency reported that if the US really desires lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, then it must reduce the pressure on North Korea. “Washington should be reminded that the ‘maximum pressure’ approach on Pyongyang is not in keeping with the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and it needs to consider easing sanctions,” said the news agency’s comment.
On August 16th, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov commented that the US acted without evidence on the basis of groundless accusations when imposing sanctions on the Russian company. He further claimed that Russia is working on retaliatory measures, and that the leadership would decide whether to hit back.
In a statement on the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry said: “The destructive U.S.’ tactics, pursued beyond the framework of the U.N. Security Council and its 1718 Sanctions Committee (related to North Korea), is only able to undermine the progress, which has been made recently toward the settlement.”
Reuters cited Vasili Kolchanov, the head of the affected Russian port services agency, who said that his company had indeed worked with North Korean vessels as a transport agent, but he also said that the sanctions against him and his company were illegal. He only assisted in preparing documents and was not involved in trading anything.
“It’s not our concern who fuels the vessels, who sells that fuel, who they buy the cargo and oil products from,” he said. “We do not load vessels. As an agent, I only need to check that they have permission from customs.”
The US has recently begun a trade war with China, imposing tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods. China has strongly condemned all US sanctions, calling them illegal and dubbing Washington “a bully.” China has also retaliated with its own tariffs on $50 billion in US goods. The Trump administration is threatening tariffs on a further $200 billion of Chinese goods. The tariffs are being imposed due to Trump’s wish to pressure US companies to bring their production back to the US, as well as to reduce trade deficit. China’s commerce ministry reiterated that Beijing opposed trade protectionism and would not accept any unilateral trade restrictions. “China welcomes communications and dialogue on the basis of reciprocity, equality and integrity,” it said.
There are, however, actions towards ending the trade war, with China’s ministry of commerce announcing that the US had invited a delegation, led by vice-commerce minister Wang Shouwen, to meet a group led by US Treasury undersecretary, David Malpass. Trump tweeted the following on Wednesday: “Our Country was built on Tariffs, and Tariffs are now leading us to great new Trade Deals – as opposed to the horrible and unfair Trade Deals that I inherited as your President. Other Countries should not be allowed to come in and steal the wealth of our great U.S.A. No longer!”
On August 9th, Washington has also imposed sanctions on Russia, due to the alleged poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4th. These come in addition to sanctions imposed on more than 700 Russian citizens and companies. Most of the sanctions were imposed during the Obama administration due to the annexation of Crimea. Additionally, some were introduced after the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election. In April 2018, more measures were introduced in response to Russia’s “malign activity around the globe,” limiting the access of Deripaska’s United Co. Rusal to the $140 billion aluminum market.
All of US sanctions and tariffs are condemned by the countries they are imposed on, being dubbed “illegal.”