On the same day North Korea sentenced a US student to 15 years in prison with hard labour, Washington has announced tough new sanctions against Pyongyang.
Otto Warmbier was paraded before the cameras to beg for forgiveness for stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel.
The 21-year-old was arrested over the New Year at the end of a five-day group tour.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters: “The allegations for which this individual was arrested and imprisoned would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States or in just about any other country in the world.
“It is increasingly clear that the North Korean government seeks to use these US citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda.”
The new sanctions, over North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile testing, include the freezing of North Korean government property in the US and a ban on US exports to North Korea.
Both US and non-US citizens with links to Pyongyang’s economy can also now be blacklisted.
“The US and the global community will not tolerate North Korea’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile activities, and we will continue to impose costs on North Korea until it comes into compliance with its international obligations,” said Earnest.
The new sanctions considerably expand punitive measures that have already been in force against Pyongyang and are now similar to the comprehensive bans previously imposed on countries such as Iran and Myanmar.
North Korea carried out a fourth nuclear test in January and recently fired short and long-range missiles.
Pyongyang also recently threatened “indiscriminate” nuclear strikes on the US and South Korea after both countries began their largest ever joint military exercises.
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un further angered the international community when he said it had developed miniature nuclear warheads that can be placed on its missiles. Many experts doubt the claims are true, however.