Beginning in 2013, China has significantly increased its drive to put a stamp of ownership onto most of the numerous uninhabited islands, shoals, and submerged features in the South China Sea.
“Beijing has pursued environmentally destructive land reclamation and militarization of disputed outposts. This has done irreparable damage to coral reefs,” said a high-level State Department official during a telephone press conference in late August.
China has used these artificial platforms to expand the reach of its maritime militia and civilian law enforcement vessels, often backed by the Chinese military, to intimidate and bully Southeast Asian claimants to most of the waters in the South China Sea. This, despite the fact that in 2016, an arbitral tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled that there was "no legal basis” for China to assert maritime claims beyond those specifically provided for in the Convention.
The United States aligned itself strongly with this decision, said the State Department official. We are deeply concerned over “the increasingly brazen manner in which Beijing has deployed coercive tactics to inhibit other claimants’ access to offshore marine resources.”
One thing is clear--Beijing’s state-owned enterprises have played a key role in building and militarizing these outposts. For that reason, the U.S. Stated Department is imposing visa restrictions on Chinese nationals who are deeply involved Beijing’s destablizing efforts in the South China Sea.
At the same time, the U.S. Commerce Department has added 24 of Beijing’s state-owned enterprises to its Entity List for their role in these activities. This means that any item that is to be exported, re-exported, or even transferred within the country to a party on the Entity List, will need a specific license.
“Other countries can consider similar measures, and we think that that would be appropriate. The kind of concerns that we have about the South China Sea and other [PRC] malign activity are very widely shared and increasingly widely shared, and we know that other countries obviously are looking at scrutinizing their policies with respect to their diverse relationships with China in terms of business, academic exchange, visa, and much else,” said the State Department official.
“We are taking actions to make clear that further militarization and further coercion is unacceptable and entirely contrary to the interests of China’s neighbors and the United States and the world.”