The Obama administration on Wednesday for the first time imposed sanctions on broad sectors of the North Korean economy, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The Treasury Department said the new measures prohibit U.S. businesses from conducting any trade with North Korean entities engaged in finance, transportation, mining and energy.
But Chinese companies could also be targeted in the crackdown, U.S. officials said. Under legislation passed by Congress last month and signed by President Barack Obama, the administration must also sanction non-U.S. companies found to be doing business with blacklisted North Korean entities.
The Wall Street Journal noted that China is by far the largest investor in the sectors identified on Wednesday. The U.S. said revenue, particularly from North Korea’s mining industry, is invested by Pyongyang back into programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea has upped its rhetoric in recent months, conducting several nuclear tests, including one in which it claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last week his country now possesses nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles.
The previous week, Kim ordered his country to be prepared to use nuclear weapons “at any time”.
“We will work closely with our international partners to continue in a strong and unambiguous way to pressure North Korea to abandon its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Adam Szubin, the Treasury’s top sanctions official, said Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Treasury also sanctioned 17 North Korean government officials and organizations, and placed travel warnings on 20 North Korean shipping vessels.
The U.S. action is a much-awaited step taken by the Obama White House to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear-weapons test in January and a ballistic-missile launch in February.
Following the North Korean tests, the UN imposed its most difficult sanctions to date on Pyongyang.
The Treasury’s blacklisting of broad sectors of North Korea’s economy borrows from a strategy the U.S. used in recent years to punish Iran for its nuclear activities, noted The Wall Street Journal. The effect was that most foreign businesses cut any ties to Iranian banks, shipping firms, or insurance companies, due to fears they could also be blacklisted by Treasury.