U.S. President Donald Trump issued another undisguised threat to irritant North Korea on Tuesday dismissing the latest U.N. sanctions as only a very small step and nothing compared to what would have to happen to deal with the country’s nuclear program. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned China that if it did not follow through on the new sanctions, the United States would “put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system.” Another senior administration official told Reuters any such “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks and other companies were on hold for now to give China time to show it was prepared to fully enforce the latest and previous rounds of sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council voted to boost sanctions on North Korea on Monday, banning its textile exports and capping fuel supplies, prompting a traditionally defiant threat of retaliation against the United States. The U.N. move was triggered by the North’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month. It was the ninth such resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-member Security Council over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs since 2006. A tougher initial U.S. draft was weakened to win the support of China, Pyongyang’s main ally and trading partner, and Russia, both of which hold U.N. veto power. Significantly, it stopped short of imposing a full embargo on oil exports to North Korea, most of which come from China. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. ”I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump, who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear missile capable of hitting the United States. Asked if Trump was considering other actions, including cutting off Chinese banks from the U.S. financial system, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: “All options are on the table. The president has also said that he wants every country involved to step up and do more. This was a small step in that process, and we’re hoping that they’ll all take a greater role and a more active role in putting pressure on North Korea.” Washington so far has mostly held off on new sanctions against Chinese banks and other companies doing business with North Korea, given fears of retaliation by Beijing and possibly far-reaching effects on the world economy. Trump is likely to make a stop in China in November during his first official visit to Asia. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks in Washington on Tuesday with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, at which details of the trip were expected to discussed.
The U.S. president has wavered between criticizing China for not doing enough on North Korea to heaping personal praise on the Chinese President Xi Jinping. North Korea said its Sept. 3 test was of an advanced hydrogen bomb and it was its most powerful nuclear blast by far. It has also tested a missile capable of reaching the United States, but experts say it is likely to be at least a year before it can field an operational nuclear missile that could threaten America.