The US has unfurled a fresh round of sanctions targeting North Korea to put more pressure on the defiant Kim Jong-un regime over its weapons programme. In a move bound to anger the Pyongyang leadership, the Trump administration also placed economic sanctions on Chinese entities.

Sixteen North Korean individuals, six vessels and nine entities have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department as part of Washington's aggressive approach to choke the regime from the flow of revenue. Two of the entities were Chinese firms, Beijing Chengxing Trading Co and Dandong Jinxiang Trade, accused of exporting millions worth of metals and other goods to the isolated North Korea.

South Korea has welcomed the latest step.

"The US government is targeting illicit actors in China, Russia, and elsewhere who are working on behalf of North Korean financial networks, and calling for their expulsion from the territories where they reside," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

These sanctions hit target North Korean representatives in China and Russia – members of the Workers' Party of Korea – who have been helping the reclusive regime with its weapons programme. Just like previous sanctions, this would allow Washington to freeze any assets the individuals and companies may hold in the US and also prohibits American nationals to transact with them. Six North Korean vessels blacklisted were linked to the hermit kingdom's shipping companies.

"Treasury continues to systematically target individuals and entities financing the Kim regime and its weapons programs, including officials complicit in North Korean sanctions evasion schemes," added Mnuchin, who is currently in Davos for the World Economic Forum.

The blacklisting also signals Washington's growing frustration with China and Russia – two of North Korea's key geopolitical partners who have resisted punitive financial measures in the past – on failing to reign in on companies which still have dealings with North Korea.

"Russia escaped these sanctions, which is surprising with Trump's comments on Moscow's backfill of Chinese sanctions implementation," Anthony Ruggiero, former official with the US Treasury Department, told the Financial Times. "But the sanctions did include action against Chinese companies which is an important development even in the atmosphere of inter-Korea talks."

The latest round of sanctions has been imposed just as when the two Koreas are engaged in a sports diplomacy with the North sending its athletes to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

North Korea soldiers
North Korean soldiers salute at Mansudae hill in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken by Kyodo Kyodo via Reuters