The Trump administration took steps on Thursday to penalise a Chinese bank, a Chinese shipping company and two Chinese citizens over dealings with North Korea, in an attempt to cut off the North's access to the international financial system.
At the same time, it approved more than a billion dollars in military sales to Taiwan.
The twin moves, expected to infuriate Beijing, came just days after President Donald Trump appeared to lose faith in his strategy of enlisting Chinese help on North Korea, arguing in a cryptic tweet that it had ''not worked out''. Still, the US insisted it wanted to continue working with China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, to combat the nuclear threat.
''We are in no way targeting China with these actions,'' Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said at the White House, referring to sanctions the US slapped on the Bank of Dandong, accused of illicit dealings with the North.
''We are committed to targeting North Korea's external enablers'' and increasing pressure on the regime until it ends its nuclear and ballistic-missile programme, Munchin added.
The punitive measures ratchet up pressure the US is applying on North Korea to halt its nuclear programme by targeting Chinese entities that the administration said act as enablers to Kim Jong-un's regime. President Donald Trump has been leaning on China to use its influence as North Korea's main trading partner.
The US is moving to cut off the Bank of Dandong from the international financial system by preventing US institutions from maintaining accounts for or on its behalf. The bank has served as ''a conduit for North Korea to access US and international financial systems'', helping facilitate transactions for companies involved in the country's weapons programmes, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
The Bank of Dandong operates 101 outlets in northeastern China, with reported •78.3 billion ($11.6 billion) in assets at the end of March. Its home city of Dandong faces the North Korean city of Sinuiju over the Yalu River, which demarcates the border between the two countries. A number of North Koreans are allowed to work in Dandong with special permissions.
Mnuchin said cutting off the flow of money was ''very effective'' in bringing Iran to the negotiating table and the US is seeking to do the same with North Korea.
Sanctions were also imposed on Dalian Global Unity Shipping Co, which ships coal and steel between China and North Korea, freezing any property or assets in the US and prohibiting any US citizen from doing business with the company.
The sanctions also hit two Chinese citizens, Sun Wei and Long Hong Ri, who have worked to help North Korea evade sanctions by facilitating financial transactions, according to the Treasury Department.
Mnuchin said the US would continue to look at other penalties that can be imposed on North Korea and that the topic will be on the agenda when Trump meets with other leaders of major economic powers at the Group of 20 summit next week in Germany.
Trump said earlier this month that China's efforts to contain North Korea had been unsuccessful.
''While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out,'' Trump tweeted on 20 June. ''At least I know China tried!''
The comment came shortly after the death of Otto Warmbier, a US citizen who was detained in North Korea for more than a year and returned to his parents in a coma.