The United States imposed sanctions on a Russian port service agency and Chinese firms on Wednesday for aiding North Korean ships and selling alcohol and tobacco to North Korea in breach of U.S. sanctions aimed at pressuring it to end its nuclear programs.
The U.S. Treasury said in a statement China-based Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading Co. Ltd and its Singapore-based affiliate SINSMS Pte. Ltd had netted more than $1 billion a year by exporting alcohol and cigarette products to North Korea.
The department 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.
Kolchanov was personally involved in North Korea-related deals and interacted directly with North Korean representatives in Russia, the department said.
"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 a statement.
The sanctions mandate that no U.S. citizen can deal with any of those designated in the order, and any of their properties in the United States "must be blocked", Treasury said.
The United States has been pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Gao Ye, legal representative of Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading, said when asked for comment on the U.S. Treasury statement the matter was still unclear and the Chinese company had not received any notice.
China's official Xinhua news agency said the United States needed to back off with the pressure on North Korea if it was serious about wanting lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
"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," Xinhua said in a commentary.
Such commentaries are not statements on official positions, but can be read as a reflection of government thinking.
China has repeatedly said it fully and strictly enforces U.N. resolutions on North Korea, but that it also has a right to conduct what it calls "normal trade" with the country in areas outside the scope of the sanctions.
China has also been angered by unilateral U.S. sanctions on Chinese firms and individuals.