WASHINGTON (AP) – The meeting of acting defense minister Patrick Shanahan and his Chinese counterpart began with all the characteristics of a routine staged and scripted session between two troubled rivals.
First came the still picture when the two men shook hands with wide smiles in front of their nation's flags, and then they quickly moved into the hotel conference room surrounded by staff. There, Shanahan presented the Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe with a gift.
But what at first glance looked like a coffee table was actually 32 pages of photographs and satellite images of North Korean ships that got and delivered oil shipments. Many of the images are stamped with dates, times, rankings and descriptions, and officials say evidence of Pyongyang violating penalties for economic sanctions just outside China's coast.
"I gave him this beautiful book," Shanahan said one day after his meeting with Wei and his senior staff at a national security conference in Singapore. "I said this is an area where you and I can work together."
] The pointed message from the working Pentagon chief comes as the Trump administration contradicts China over a wide range of problems including trade, Chinese theft of US technology, possible sale of US weapons to Taiwan and how to push North Korea into abandon its nuclear weapons program.
China agreed to UN sanctions against its allies and neighbor North Korea, but as the photo book illustrates, it seems possible to allow violations to take place.
On a side of the book, seen by The Associated Press, a photo shows the North Korean flagged oil tanker Kum Un San 3 next to the M / V New Regent, a Panama flag tanker and a number of lines and tubing is draped between the two ships. The image is dated June 7, 2018.
In a press release dated October 2018, the UN stated that the June 7 shipping to the ship was a violation and said it probably involved oil. The UN sanctioned the two ships and said that they are subject to rehab and banned from entering UN member ports.
Another picture in the book shows the North Korean tanker An San 1 and says it "relieves refined petroleum" through an underwater pipeline at the Nampo terminal, near Pyongyang.
Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, a Pentagon spokesman, said Shanahan drafted the book to show that the enforcement of UN sanctions off the Chinese coast is "an area of potential coordination and cooperation" with the Chinese military.
An American chief of defense said Shanahan had photographs and information in the book declassified and bound.
Shanahan presented the book to Wei at the beginning of their meeting and said he had a gift for the minister, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. The official said that Wei initially appeared to receive a gift, but when he realized what it was, he quickly turned it over to his staff.
During the meeting, Shanahan Wei told that the US and Chinese navy could work together to prevent such violations of UN sanctions, the official said.
"It's actually very smart," said Bonnie Glaser, director of China's power project at the Washington-based Strategic and International Studies Center. "It really calls China. It is a way of telling them that we know what's going on, we have a lot of evidence, and here is an opportunity to expand cooperation with the United States."
Glaser, who also attended the Singapore Conference, said she spoke to members of the Chinese delegation and described the meeting between Shanahan and Wei as positive and optimistic. Nobody, she said, said the book.
"I think it was probably embarrassing," she said. "They probably thought they got something wonderful that would highlight something positive, not something that calls China off their inability to step up and down North Korea."
Oil and trade sanctions against North Korea have harmed its already struggling economy, and both Russia and China have called for them to ease. China is unlikely to overtly evade sanctions and face diplomatic friction with the United States, but more than 90% of North Korea's foreign trade has gone through China.
The UN Security Council in March said North Korea continued to defy its decisions by a "massive" increase in shipments of petroleum products and coal. The US Navy has been working with a number of countries, including South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and France to capture sanctions, such as ship transfers to ships.
Shanahan's meeting with Wei at the Shangri-La Dialogue Security Conference earlier this month came the night before he delivered a speech condemning China's efforts to steal technology from other nations and militarize man-made outposts in the South China Sea as a "tool of coercion. " But he also made clear that the United States wants to cooperate with China on other international issues.
In a brief discussion of the book under questions after his conference speech, Shanahan said that the two countries should work through their differences.
"Trust is built over time," he said. "Trust is built by working on projects and being shoulder to shoulder. It does not happen at conferences or policies or by talking. We need to find areas where we can grow."