The United States accuses China of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate Asian neighbors who might want to exploit its extensive oil and gas reserves.
The United States has announced sanctions and restrictions on two dozen Chinese companies and associated officials for taking part in building artificial islands in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The 24 state-owned firms include subsidiaries of construction giant China Communications Construction Co, telecommunications firms and a unit of the China Shipbuilding Group.
The move on Wednesday was the latest step in Washington's efforts to pressure Beijing over its military buildup in areas of the South China Sea where sovereignty is contested by several countries.
The US Commerce Department said the companies "enabled China to construct and militarise disputed outposts in the South China Sea."
"Since 2013, the PRC (People's Republic of China) has used its state-owned enterprises to dredge and reclaim more than 3,000 acres on disputed features in the South China Sea, destabilising the region, trampling on the sovereign rights of its neighbours, and causing untold environmental devastation," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
The U.S. is taking action today to support freedom of the seas and to oppose coercion of our Southeast Asian allies and partners. We must not allow Beijing’s campaign of bullying to prevent access to vital offshore resources and damage critical ecosystems.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) August 26, 2020
The State Department, in a separate statement, said it would impose visa restrictions on Chinese individuals "responsible for, or complicit in," such action in the South China Sea, and those linked to China's "use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources."
The 24 companies were placed on the Commerce Department's "Entity List" which allows it to block exports of US goods and materials to them.
In addition, Pompeo said individuals associated with the South China Sea operations will be unable to obtain visas to visit the United States.
The names of the individuals were not made available.
The United States 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 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it, through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year.