“The entities designated today have played a significant role in China’s provocative construction of these artificial islands and must be held accountable,” Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, said in a statement.
A senior Commerce Department official told reporters on Wednesday that “there’s been a relatively small amount” of U.S. exports to the companies targeted on Wednesday, totaling around $5 million over the past five years.
The named companies include several divisions of China Communications Construction Company, a contractor for many of the “Belt and Road” infrastructure projects that China has built around the world. In its announcement, the State Department said that the company had “engaged in corruption, predatory financing, environmental destruction and other abuses across the world.”
The list also includes Beijing Huanjia Telecommunication Co., Chongxin Bada Technology Development Co., Shanghai Cable Offshore Engineering Co., Tianjin Broadcasting Equipment Co., and the research institutes of the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation and China Shipbuilding Group.
China must not be allowed to use these companies “as weapons to impose an expansionist agenda,” Mr. Pompeo said in his statement. “The United States will act until we see Beijing discontinue its coercive behavior in the South China Sea, and we will continue to stand with allies and partners in resisting this destabilizing activity.”
The United States does not have maritime claims in the South China Sea, but wants to ensure Beijing does not trample on the “sovereign rights” of Southeast Asian nations. Senior State Department officials also accused China and its state-owned companies of “bullying and coercion” in the region, which plays host to lucrative and vital shipping lanes.
David R. Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has referred to China’s territorial expansion in the region as “modern-day equivalents of the East India Company,” referring to the trading company that fueled the British Empire.
Pranshu Verma contributed reporting.