The Commerce Department on Wednesday blacklisted 24 Chinese companies, saying that they are helping the ruling Chinese Communist Party construct artificial islands in the South China Sea, which the U.S. sees as a military provocation.
Issue at stake: Commerce said that since 2013, the Chinese government has built more than 3,000 acres of islands in the international waters off its southeastern coast, including “air defense and anti-ship missile features.”
This appears to be the first time the administration is targeting China’s actions in the South China Sea, which has provoked U.S. partners in Southeast Asia like Taiwan and the Philippines. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has recently stepped up criticism of China’s claims of outposts in the area. In 2016, the tribunal at The Hague said China’s claims violated international law.
Who’s targeted: The 24 companies will be placed on the agency’s “entity list,” preventing the export of U.S. goods to Chinese companies. The firms are largely dredging, shipbuilding, infrastructure and technology companies.
The blacklisted firms include the state-owned China Communications Construction Company, one of the leading contractors in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Communist Party’s global infrastructure investment program.
“The PRC must not be allowed to use [China Communications Construction Company] and other state-owned enterprises as weapons to impose an expansionist agenda,” Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday.
Context: Commerce last week put 38 affiliates of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which the U.S. says enables Communist Party espionage, on the entity list.
The department previously put 37 Chinese enterprises on the entity list for engaging in or enabling human rights abuses in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, home to an ethnic minority of Muslims.
What’s next: The move comes amid deteriorating relations with Beijing, which the president has blamed for the coronavirus pandemic to deflect from his unpopular handling of the virus at home.
Republicans are ramping up rhetoric against China at their convention this week, and Pompeo said the U.S. “will act until we see Beijing discontinue its coercive behavior in the South China Sea.”