President Donald Trump is expected to address the new penalties Friday at a conservative gathering in Washington.
Trump, who has vowed to use force if necessary to prevent North Korea acquiring a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland, warned that if sanctions don't work, the USA would move to "phase two" in its pressure campaign against Pyongyang.
The Treasury Department said it was barring USA business transactions with nine worldwide shipping companies from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Panama, and nine of their vessels.
In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S.is "taking decisive action to block the vessels, shipping companies, and entities across the globe that work on North Korea's behalf".
The sanctioned entities include companies with headquarters in North Korea, as well as ones based out of other countries, including China. "We will see, but hopefully something positive can happen", Trump said.
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The US is also issuing a global shipping advisory in conjunction with the Coast Guard and the State Department to put everyone on notice of North Korea's illicit maritime tactics and underscore the significant sanctions risk of engaging in maritime business with North Korea, Mnuchin said.
The agencies also alerted those industries of North Korea's deceptive shipping practices.
China exported barely any fuel to North Korea in January, data showed on Saturday (Feb 24), deepening months-long cuts in trade with its isolated neighbour amid growing tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programme. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US has now blacklisted virtually all ships being used by the North.
The strategy includes sanctioning entities that the USA believes provide oil and other financial assistance to North Korea.
The latest U.S. sanctions come just days before the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, with North Korean officials set to attend.
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While these sanctions exclusively focus on "illicit maritime activity", administration officials made it clear that they are part of the maximum pressure campaign aimed at denuclearization.
Although South Korea is a close US ally, animosity between Washington and Pyongyang still runs high and there's no sign of the adversaries starting negotiations on the nuclear issue.
China's Foreign Ministry, in a statement to Reuters, said they did not know anything about the plan, but that in principle China believes United Nations resolutions on North Korea should be fully and thoroughly implemented.
During a pre-dinner briefing with Moon, Ivanka said her visit was to "reaffirm our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized".
Moon praised the Winter Olympics for helping to open up dialogue between the countries, which are still technically at war.
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