SEOUL, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- China is trying to "undo the U.N. sanctions regime" against North Korea and is delaying the secretive state's move toward denuclearization, a State Department official said.
Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary of state for North Korea, said China has been "seeking to revive trade links and revenue transfers to the North" in "flagrant violation" of international sanctions. He made the remarks on Tuesday during a keynote address at an online conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Wong said China has failed to enforce U.N. sanctions by hosting at least 20,000 North Korean laborers and by allowing its companies to trade with the North in prohibited goods. China also permits middleman bank accounts and money launderers for North Korean weapons-related trade to operate within its borders.
"In no other country do we see this breadth and depth of continuing illicit commercial activity with North Korea, the scale of which puts China in flagrant violation of its [United Nations] obligations," Wong said.
"The examples of this chronic failure are numerous, growing and worrying," he added.
As a member of the U.N. Security Council, China has voted in favor of sanctions against North Korea on numerous occasions, including the stringent U.S.-led round in 2017 after Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test.
Wong said China has continued to allow ships smuggling fuel and other prohibited items to North Korea to operate in its waters.
On 46 occasions going back to 2019, U.S. vessels provided information to Chinese Navy or Coast Guard vessels that ships involved in fuel smuggling were fleeing into Chinese coastal waters, Wong said.
"The Chinese authorities did nothing to stop those vessels in response," he said. "Not once."
The United States also observed ships carrying coal or other sanctioned goods from North Korea to China on 555 occasions in the past year, Wong added, while Chinese-flagged barges loaded up on coal in North Korean ports and sailed back to China another 155 times.
China "has the resources to implement its U.N. sanctions obligations in its coastal waters," Wong said. "But, again, it chooses not to."
China's continued trade with North Korea and its push for sanctions relief is delaying North Korea's moves to denuclearize, Wong said.
"Premature sanctions relief would put the stable economic future we all want for North Korea even farther into the distance by removing a key impetus for the DPRK to negotiate and to take serious denuclearization steps," he said.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
China is North Korea's closest ally and by far its most important trading partner, but Beijing claims that it abides by U.N. sanctions. North Korea closed its borders in January as a protective measure against the COVID-19 pandemic, curtailing its cross-border commerce with China and contributing to the country's economic woes.
The State Department announced a new website on Tuesday, DPRKrewards.com, through which individuals can provide tips on North Korean sanctions evasion and potentially receive a reward of up to $5 million.
Washington will "continue to impose sanctions on any individual or entity perpetrating sanctions evasion, including individuals and entities within China's jurisdiction," Wong said. "We've imposed numerous such sanctions designations in the past. And more are forthcoming."