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U.S. blacklists Chinese firms, executives over South China Sea

U.S. blacklists Chinese firms, executives over South China Sea
A file picture dated May 11, 2015, shows an areal view of alleged artificial islands built by China in disputed waters in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines. Photo by Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA

Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The Trump administration imposed fresh sanctions against Chinese firms and military over its "reckless and belligerent actions" in the South China Sea as well as labeled nine companies including Xiaomi as military controlled and added a government oil company to its Entity List.

The Departments of Commerce, State and Defense separately announced actions targeting the People's Republic of China on Thursday, moves that are expected to further fray an already fraught relationship between Washington and Beijing in the days before the Biden administration assumes power.

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The Commerce Department said it has added China National Offshore Oil Corporation to its import-export Entity list over its combative actions in the South China Sea.

"CNOOC acts as a bully for the People's Liberation Army to intimidate China's neighbors, and the Chinese military continues to benefit from government civil-military fusion policies for malign purposes," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

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China lays sweeping claims to the East China Sea through its so-called Nine-Dash-Line maps, sparking disputes with neighboring countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, but the United States has pushed back against China's encroachment, accusing it of building artificial islands since 2013 to use as military outposts to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors.

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In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States rejects most of China's maritime claims to the South China Sea, highlighting the United Nations' 2016 ruling that said the Nine-Dash-Line claim has no grounds.

On Thursday, Pompeo said in a statement that CNOOC was added to the Entity List for its role in China's "campaign of coercion" against other nations who claim ownership to an estimated $2.5 trillion in oil located in the East China Sea.

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Pompeo accused China of weaponizing CNOOC to enforce its Nine-Dash-Line policy as well as of sending fishing and energy survey vessels escorted by military ships into the waters of its neighbors "to harass claimant state oil and gas development in areas where it has failed to put forth a coherent, lawful maritime claim."

Executives of state-owned firms and officials of the Chinese Communist Party and the Asian nation's navy were sanctioned with visa restrictions by the State Department on Thursday for being responsible for or complicit in "either the large-scale reclamation, construction or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, or the PRC's use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources."

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Separately, the Defense Department backlisted nine companies including smartphone maker Xiaomi and Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China on Thursday by adding them to a list of firms it says have ties to the People's Liberation Army.

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President Donald Trump signed an executive order in November of last year that bans Americans from investing in the companies and gives those who have until November of this year to divest.

The Pentagon said in a statement that it "is determined to highlight and counter the People's Republic of China's Military-Civil Fusion development strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People's Liberation Army by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise acquired and developed by even those PRC companies, universities and research programs that appear to be civilian entities."

Ross said he added Skyrizon, a Chinese aviation firm, to the Commerce's own Military End-User List over its "push to acquire and indigenize foreign military technologies that pose a significant threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests."

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"China's reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea and its aggressive push to acquire sensitive intellectual property and technology for its militarization efforts are a threat to U.S. national security and the security of the international community," he said.

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China has yet to comment on the moves but it has previously condemned similar punitive actions by the United States, which has imposed sanctions targeting the Asian nation over its human rights abuses committed against its Muslim minority population in Xinjiang region and protesters in Hong Kong.

On Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it will detain all cotton and tomato products produced in Xinjiang due to the use of forced labor.

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Zhao Lijian, a China foreign ministry spokesman, called the accusation of forced labor "the biggest lie of the century" aimed to restrict Chinese companies and contain the nation's development.

"The United States should respect basic facts, immediately withdraw its erroneous decision and stop interfering in China's internal affairs while taking Xinjiang as an excuse," he told reporters Thursday during a regular press briefing. "China will take all essential measures to uphold national interests and dignity, and safeguard sovereignty, security and development interests."

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