WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S.-China relationship continued to devolve Wednesday as the Commerce Department announced the addition of 24 Chinese companies to its sanctions list for their role in building military islands in the South China Sea.
The sanctions ban the companies from buying certain American products, according to a news release from the department. Most of the companies named were involved in construction work, while others varied from telecommunications firms to avionic technology companies.
“The United States, China’s neighbors, and the international community have rebuked the CCP’s sovereignty claims to the South China Sea and have condemned the building of artificial islands for the Chinese military,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “The entities designated today have played a significant role in China’s provocative construction of these artificial islands and must be held accountable.”
More than 3,000 acres across seven islands in the South China Sea have already been formed since 2013, with bases on the island being comprised of aviation and nautical defenses. The U.S. government says China’s fortification of dredged islands also violates an arbitration treaty with the Philippines reached in 2016, which confirms Filipino sovereignty over the sea.
The sanctions follow what Chinese military representatives call “provocations” from the U.S. military, after a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft allegedly flew into a Chinese no-fly zone Tuesday during Chinese military exercises. That move was denounced by Wu Qian, a Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson who urged “the U.S. side to immediately stop such provocations and take concrete steps to safeguard regional peace and stability.”
“The U.S. action could easily have resulted in misjudgments and even accidents,” the Chinese government said.
Military tensions continued to rise Wednesday, as China launched two ballistic missiles into the South China Sea in response to the flyover, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper. The launch was billed as a warning to the United States and a demonstration of an “aircraft-carrier killer” missile, detonated in an area between Hainan and the Paracel Islands.
China has been out of favor with the U.S. and President Donald Trump since the president took office, with disputes between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping involving trade and tariffs, among other issues. Trump has increasingly looked to shift blame from his administration to Chinese officials for America’s dulled response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which emerged late last year in Wuhan, China.
U.S. officials are chiefly concerned with a Hong Kong national security law that bans a broad definition of succession and terrorist conduct, which passed the Chinese parliament by a 2,878-1 vote. Quelling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which had been operating autonomously since 1997, is the law’s main objective.
The legislation’s passage has led to a number of responses from the U.S., including Treasury Department sanctions against pro-China government officials in Hong Kong and the revocation of the city’s special trade status with America. The Trump administration also has ended multiple agreements with Hong Kong, including tax exemption and extradition deals.