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Fishing vessels are seen in the South China Sea Photo: Artyom Ivanov/TASS via Getty Images

The Department of Commerce on Wednesday blacklisted 24 Chinese firms for "helping the Chinese military construct and militarize the internationally condemned artificial islands in the South China Sea."

Why it matters: The move comes as the Trump administration continues to ramp up pressure on Beijing amid escalating tensions in the disputed region.

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a separate statement Wednesday, saying the State Department would impose visa restrictions on an unspecified number of Chinese individuals who are "responsible for, or complicit in, either the large-scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea..."

The big picture: In toughening its approach on Beijing last month, the U.S. rejected most of China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

  • The Commerce Department said Wednesday that China has built more than 3,000 acres of "air defense and anti-ship missile features" since 2013.
  • China continues to assert claim to the area, ignoring a 2016 ruling in international court that said Beijing's claims do not have grounds in international law.

Driving the news: Earlier Wednesday, China reportedly fired two missiles into the disputed South China Sea as a "warning" to the U.S., per the South China Morning Post.

The state of play: The two dozen companies blacklisted Wednesday include an array of communications, construction, engineering, research and tech groups.

What they're saying: “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 stated.

  • "The entities designated today have played a significant role in China’s provocative construction of these artificial islands and must be held accountable,” Ross said.
  • Pompeo added in a separate statement that the U.S. "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."

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Why it matters: These are the first charges of their kind, FBI director Christopher Wray said at a Wednesday press briefing. The charges include conspiring to violate law on interstate stalking on behalf of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

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Why it matters: De Croo said the government saw no choice but to lock down "to ensure that our health care system does not collapse." Scientists and health officials said deaths have doubled every six days, per the Guardian.