“I assure you, many of the tips we receive through this program will directly implicate that trade,” Alex Wong, the State Department’s deputy envoy for North Korea, said in a virtual speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Wong warned that the United States will impose more sanctions related to North Korea in the two months remaining before the Trump administration ends, including penalties on people and entities in China that facilitate illicit trade.
“We’ve imposed numerous such sanctions designations in the past,” Wong said. “And more are forthcoming.”
Wong accused China of a “flagrant violation” of its obligation to enforce international sanctions on North Korea.
The rewards program underscores how even in its waning days, the Trump administration is doubling down on its relentless “maximum pressure” campaigns against countries it considers its chief nemeses. Although the sanctions campaigns have hampered the economies of the targeted countries, none has succeeded in dislodging the regimes or making them change their authoritarian behavior, the stated aim.
Tensions have ratcheted up recently with Iran, which blames Israel and the United States for the assassination of its foremost nuclear scientist. China bristles every time Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lambastes Beijing for the global coronavirus pandemic, which he calls “the virus from Wuhan.” And on Monday, the administration imposed sanctions on a Chinese electronics firm it said had supported Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s efforts to undermine democracy.
With the impending sanctions against the North Korean regime, the administration is elevating tensions with another international hot spot, creating potential problems that will be waiting for President-elect Joe Biden when he takes office next month.
North Korea’s economy has been strangled through sanctions the U.N. Security Council has put in place since 2006.
“The biggest obstacle to an economically strong North Korea is the regime’s programs to build nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver those weapons around the globe,” Wong said.
He expressed U.S. “disappointment” at a military parade in Pyongyang on Oct. 10 that featured a new intercontinental ballistic missile and showed off an array of modernized military systems, from small arms to antitank and air-defense systems.
Repeatedly singling out China in his remarks, Wong accused Beijing of helping North Korea obtain the money to continue its military buildup and said the United States had documented 555 incidents of ships carrying coal and other banned goods from North Korea to China.
Wong said China is “seeking to undo” U.N. sanctions that are supposed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Beijing is host to at least 20,000 North Korean laborers whose salaries are funneled to the government in Pyongyang for weapons development. Suggesting a group of potential targets to upcoming U.S. sanctions, Wong said Beijing allows Chinese companies to continue trade in U.N.-prohibited goods including seafood, textiles, iron and steel.
“The DPRK still retains shadowy avenues to procure inputs to its weapons programs,” he said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“The DPRK cannot do that without middlemen. It cannot do that without illicit bank accounts. It cannot do that without a network of money launderers. The overwhelming number of those middlemen, bank accounts and money launderers operate within the borders of China.”