The Trump administration marked a change in tone with China on Thursday, blacklisting a small Chinese bank accused of laundering money for North Korea.
The U.S. also applied sanctions to a Chinese shipping company and two Chinese people that it accuses of facilitating North Korea’s illegal activities.
The move escalates pressure on Beijing to rein in its wayward ally. China remains North Korea’s only major trading partner. The Chinese regime has sustained North Korea as a buffer between itself and U.S.-aligned and democratic South Korea.
The targeted bank is small, operating in Dandong, the northeastern Chinese city on the North Korean border that acts as a gateway for trade with the isolated nation.
Treasury Department says that the Bank of Dandong is a “primary money-laundering concern.” It proposed severing the bank from the U.S. financial system, pending a 60-day review period.
“This bank has served as a gateway for North Korea to access the US and international financial systems facilitating millions of dollars of transactions for companies involved in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in a briefing with reporters at the White House Thursday.
“The United States will not stand for such action. This will require US banks to ensure that the Bank of Dandong does not access the US financial system directly or indirectly through other foreign banks.”
The announcement comes with U.S. frustration over China’s efforts to enforce international sanctions intended to starve North Korea of revenue for its nuclear and missile programs.
Three senior administration officials had told Reuters on Tuesday that North Korea and bilateral trade issues were leading the administration to consider trade sanctions against Beijing.