USA officials and United Nations investigators have said China hasn't moved robustly enough to shut down networks they say are financing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's regime and weapons programs, including activities sanctioned by the United Nations.
The U.N. Security Council stepped up sanctions on Monday following Pyongyang's sixth nuclear test on September 3, imposing a ban on textile exports and capping oil imports. Now it calls only for a reduction.
The Trump administration has been under the impression that China is the key to resolving the North Korean nuclear problem from the beginning. US officials showed Congress satellite images of illicit trade to highlight the challenge of getting China and Russian Federation to cut off commerce with the rogue nation.
At the time, the US Treasury said: "The Bank of Dandong acts as a conduit for North Korea to access the US and worldwide financial systems, including by facilitating millions of dollars of transactions for companies involved in North Korea's WMD and ballistic missile programmes".
The new limits on oil highlight the difficulties involved.
The initial draft resolution called for a full oil embargo, the blacklisting of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and several other measures to address the growing threat.
"How would we know if China is limiting crude oil exports if it doesn't report the data to begin with?" asked Kent Boydston, a research analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The US had originally proposed harsher sanctions including a total ban on oil imports.
Lawmakers who spoke Tuesday supported the USA pressure tactics, while voicing skepticism that North Korea could be forced into abandon nuclear weapons it regards as a guarantee of survival for the Kim dynasty. While Beijing asserts that it is doing its part, the US has argued that China has not done enough to rein in its nuclear neighbor.
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To blacklist any of the major Chinese banks would be far more serious, however.
It's just the latest example of the illicit ways North Korea allegedly brings in money as it endures wave after wave of increasingly tough global sanctions over its rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. For example, the US could call once again for a full oil embargo if Pyongyang holds another nuclear test or launches an intercontinental ballistic missile.
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"China's full and effective enforcement of United Nations sanctions is therefore essential", Mr. Billingslea said.
Experts have repeatedly warned that Kim's regime will protect the weapons program above all else.
"Sanctions of any kind are useless and ineffective", Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters earlier this month at a summit in Xiamen, China.
And while China accounts for 90% of North Korean exports, Billingslea said he "cannot assure the committee today that we have seen sufficient evidence of China's willingness to truly shut down North Korean revenue flows, expunge the North Korean illicit actors from its banking system, and expel the North Korean middlemen and brokers who are establishing webs of front companies".
There are a few things that made it through the negotiating process - for instance, a ban on textile exports from North Korea, for instance.