US expands sanctions against six countries after democracy summit

The US imposed new sanctions on dozens of people and companies in Myanmar, North Korea, China and Bangladesh on Friday, after it organised a Summit for Democracy.

Last week, the US Treasury imposed penalties on the head of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces, a riot control unit accused of the harsh treatment of protesters.

Also penalised was Uganda’s Chief of Military Intelligence, Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, who is accused of torturing prisoners.

The US Treasury announced the sanctions “ahead of the summit,” laser issuing another round of trade restrictions against four other countries.

Sanctions were imposed on the Rapid Action Battalion, a police unit in Bangladesh that is alleged to have abused human rights.

The measures against North Korea represent the first sanctions by President Joe Biden’s administration against the east Asian state, which has been largely cut off from the international community after the conflict with its southern neighbour and an alliance of UN-backed countries.

Washington has long accused Pyongyang of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, contravening human rights and threatening America’s regional allies.

The US has imposed various trade restrictions on the regime since the start of the three-year Korean war in June 1950.

Donald Trump, when president, tried to ease tension between Washington and Pyongyang, holding a summit with leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in 2018. In June the following year, he became the first US president to visit Mr Kim in the demilitarised zone that divides the north and south.

But in January last year, as Mr Biden prepared to take office, Mr Kim said his country would continue to test missiles and develop nuclear weapons.

The Biden administration has repeatedly called on Pyongyang to engage in dialogue over its nuclear and missile programmes, but a series of missile tests by the north, in October and November, have set back efforts to thaw relations. In August, Mr Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, had said the US was open to resuming nuclear talks, “anywhere and at any time” with the North.

The Treasury also blacklisted North Korea’s Central Public Prosecutors Office, along with the former minister of social security and recently assigned Minister of People’s Armed Forces Ri Yong-gil.

A Russian university was also a target, for helping with the export of North Korean workers.

The Treasury said it was imposing sanctions on two entities within Myanmar’s military and a company that supplies it with reserves. The Directorate of Defence Industries, one target of the sanctions, makes weapons for the military and police that have been used against opponents of the junta’s February 1 coup.

The Treasury also imposed sanctions on four regional chief ministers, including Myo Swe Win, who leads the junta’s administration in the Bago region. It said at least 82 people were killed there in a single day in April.

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Canada imposed sanctions against four entities affiliated with the Myanmar military government. The UK imposed new sanctions against the military.

“Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the UK and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression,” deputy treasury secretary Wally Adeyemo said.

Chinese tech start-up SenseTime Group, an artificial intelligence company, was added to an investment blacklist. Known for facial recognition software, the company has offices in several countries and also works in health care, among other sectors.

“We have complied with the applicable laws and regulations in relation to our business in all material respects in the jurisdictions where we conduct business,” SenseTime said.

China’s embassy in Washington denounced the US move as “serious interference in China’s internal affairs” and a “severe violation of basic norms governing international relations”.

Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said it would do “grave harm to China-US relations” and urged Washington to rescind the decision.

On Friday, Mr Biden said that commitments made by some countries at the summit, attended by more than 100 world leaders, would push back against rising autocracy around the world, fight corruption and promote human rights.

The US State Department on Friday also barred 12 people from travelling to the US, including officials in China, Belarus and Sri Lanka.

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