US sanctions North Korea in response to latest missile launches

The Treasury Department will freeze the assets of two North Korean banks, one individual and a trading company working with the country’s rocket ministry following the May 24 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile and two shorter-range missiles by North Korea.

The sanctions target supporters of the country’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, as well as foreign financial institutions that “have knowingly provided significant financial services” to the North Korean government, Brian Nelson, head of the Treasury Department’s terrorism and financial intelligence division, said in a statement.

The property of import-export company Air Koryo as well as an individual named Jong Yong Nam were frozen by the order from Treasury for their role in trying to procure “transistors and hydraulic system components” for the North Korean state rocket industry.

The order, administered by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, “blocks the property of persons engaged in [WMD] proliferation activities and their support networks.”

The assets of the North Korean Far Eastern Bank and Bank Sputnik will also be frozen for similar support of prohibited enterprises. The Bank of Russia revoked a business license for Bank Sputnik in 2021, citing “dubious foreign exchange transactions.”

Tuesday’s missile launches by North Korea were timed with a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal but increasingly frequent security conference held by the United States, Japan, Australia and India that’s seen as a bulwark against Chinese territorial ambitions.

The Quad has met four times, and twice in-person, in only the last year. In the latest meeting, the four countries condemned North Korea’s missile program and reaffirmed their goal of getting rid of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

The Quad is not a military alliance, and its commitments fall far short of the collective security arrangement that is the bedrock of Europe-focused NATO. Nonetheless, the informal partnership, or “dialogue,” as it is called by the White House, is regarded by the Chinese government as provocative.

“Building small cliques and stoking bloc confrontation is the real threat to a peaceful, stable and cooperative maritime order,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, President Biden provoked China over Taiwan when he said the U.S. would defend the island militarily should China invade it, as Russia invaded Ukraine more than three months ago.

Biden’s departure from the typically anodyne language of Washington’s “strategic ambiguity” stance on Taiwan prompted the Department of Defense to later walk back the president’s comments.

“As the president said, our ‘One China’ policy has not changed,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Chinese and Russian war planes flew a joint mission around Japan on the day of the Quad meeting, with a total of six bombers crossing patches of the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, according to Japanese media reports.

On Wednesday, the U.S. and Japan responded with a military exercise of their own, in which four Japanese F-15s and four American F-16s from the 35th Fighter Wing flew over the Sea of Japan.

In a joint statement after the Quad meeting, member countries said they support “peaceful settlement of disputes without resorting to threat or use of force, any unilateral attempt to change the status quo, and freedom of navigation and overflight.”

“We will continue to act decisively together to advance these principles in the region and beyond,” they said.