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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."

Go deeper

Dec 3, 2020 - World

U.S. blocks cotton imports from China's Xinjiang region over forced labor

A farmer harvests cotton in a field in October in Hami, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. Photo: Pulati Niyazi/VCG via Getty Images

The Trump administration announced Wednesday the U.S. will block imports of cotton products from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China because of forced labor concerns.

Why it matters: The plan to seize the cotton shipments from a powerful Chinese quasi-military group is the latest U.S. response to China's detention of over 1 million Uighur Muslims in internment camps.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Dec 3, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Why some Asian countries keep building coal plants

Coal-fired power's persistence in Asia is a big climate problem, but the reasons some countries can't quit coal — even as other parts of the world are gradually breaking up with the fuel — aren't always so obvious.

Driving the news: Enter a new paper in Energy Research & Social Science that explores what's driving demand for China's financing of coal-fired power plants in the region, even as other power sources are cost-competitive.

Dec 4, 2020 - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.