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U.S. targets Chinese individuals, firms amid South China Sea dispute

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday blacklisted 24 Chinese companies and targeted a number of individuals it said were part of construction and military actions related to disputed islands in the South China Sea.

The Commerce Department said the two dozen companies played a “role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarise the internationally condemned artificial islands in the South China Sea.” 

The State Department, in a separate statement, said it would impose visa restrictions on Chinese individuals “responsible for, or complicit in,” such action and those linked to China’s “use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources.”

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The move marked the Trump administration’s latest efforts to crack down on companies whose goods may support Chinese military activities.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

The US accuses China of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate Asian neighbours who might want to exploit its extensive oil and gas reserves. The US has conducted multiple freedom of navigation operations by sending its warships through the area to assert the freedom of access to international waterways.

China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of an area through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year.

Companies blacklisted by the Commerce Department include Guangzhou Haige Communications Group, several firms that appear to be related to the China Communications Construction Co, as well as Beijing Huanjia Telecommunication, Changzhou Guoguang Data Communications, China Electronics Technology Group and China Shipbuilding Group.

A message left with Shanghai Cable Offshore Engineering, an engineering company that specialises in the laying of submarine cables for Chinese utilities and telecom companies on the listing, was not immediately returned. Several other companies on the list could not immediately be reached or could not immediately be located.

The Commerce Department said it was adding the firms to its “entity list,” which restricts sales of US goods shipped to them and some more limited items made abroad with US content or technology. Companies can apply for licenses to make the sales, but they must overcome a high bar for approval.

The actions follow the same blueprint used by Washington in its attempt to limit the influence of Huawei Technologiesfor what it says are national security reasons. 

  • Reporting by Susan Heavey, Idrees Ali and Daphne Psaledakis

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