BEIJING: China confirmed Tuesday that it had put a hold on a US bid to blacklist ships helping North Korea circumvent sanctions, saying it needs more time to investigate the measure.
The US last month presented the request to a United Nations sanctions committee to ban 33 ships from ports worldwide and blacklist 27 shipping firms for aiding Pyongyang.
The move is part of a crackdown on the smuggling of North Korean commodities in violation of UN sanctions resolutions, which were brought in over Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
But China -- North Korea's sole ally -- on Friday "placed a hold on the proposals" from the United States, said the Dutch chair of the sanctions committee in a letter seen by AFP on Monday.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed the move Tuesday, telling a regular press briefing that Beijing had put a hold on the request "for technical reasons."
"This proposal at the UN Security Council involves a lot of ships and entities. China needs some time to conduct inter-agency investigations," he explained.
The US request lists 33 vessels -- 19 of which are from North Korea -- that would be barred from entering all ports worldwide.
Of the 27 shipping and trading firms facing a UN assets freeze, five are based in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong including Huaxin Shipping, which has allegedly used its vessels to deliver North Korean coal to Vietnam.
Two other listed companies also based in China -- Shanghai Dongfeng Shipping and Weihai World Shipping Freight -- are cited for carrying North Korean coal on their vessels.
The US blacklist request to the UN, made on February 23, also targets a national from Taiwan, Tsang Yung Yuan, who is said to be coordinating illegal North Korean coal exports with a North Korean broker in Russia.
It coincides with President Donald Trump's announcement last month of the "heaviest sanctions ever" on North Korea.