The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Wednesday on a number of Chinese firms, including a state-owned giant accused of shipping Iranian crude, thus violating U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The move is part of the administration’s efforts to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran and cut off the last remnants of its crude exports as allies in Europe are increasing pressure on President Donald Trump to ease the sanctions and engage in dialogue with Iran.
The blacklisting of China’s largest movers of oil and petroleum products will inevitably heighten tensions with Beijing as the two countries struggle to overcome disagreements on trade, intellectual property and a plethora of other topics, The Wall Street Journal writes.
“We’re telling China and all nations: Know that we will sanction every violation of sanctionable activity,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the measures Wednesday on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in New York.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani said his country will not negotiate with the United States as long as sanctions are in place, calling them “merciless economic terrorism.”
The move also aims to persuade other world powers to support America’s pressure campaign against Iran, particularly after the recent airstrikes on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, which the U.S. has blamed Iran for.
“Countries are indeed awakening to the truth that the more Iran lashes out, the greater our pressure will and should be. As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted, they will be tightened,” Pompeo said.
However, China has not yet committed to fully backing the U.S.’ sanctions on Iran and to cutting its consumption of Iranian oil to zero. As a result, Pompeo and other top officials have warned Beijing that should it continue facilitating Iranian crude sales, it would be severely punished.
Until now, the Trump administration had not taken any larger steps against major Chinese companies to avoid flaming up tensions, but the Wednesday sanctions target state-owned shipping giant Cosco Group – the world’s largest shipping operator – affecting over four dozen vessels.
“Sanctioning one of the world’s premier energy-shipping companies that abides with all international trade norms is a wrong move,” a senior Cosco executive said in response to the latest action. “The U.S. should stop policing and punishing legitimate maritime operators.”
Companies based in the United States, as well as individuals, are forbidden from conducting business with the newly blacklisted firms; otherwise, they risk being sanctioned themselves.