The US announced new sanctions against China on Friday, targeting six companies linked to Beijing’s suspected surveillance program. The move comes after a Chinese “spy balloon” was spotted and shot down in US airspace.
In a statement, the US Commerce Department said the entities were being blacklisted for supporting China’s “military modernization efforts, specifically those related to aerospace programs.” These included airships, balloons and related materials used by Beijing for intelligence and reconnaissance.
The new restrictions will make it harder for the sanctioned companies to obtain US technologies. The targeted entities include Beijing Nanjing Aerospace Technology and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation’s 48th Research Institute.
China’s “use of high-altitude balloons violates our sovereignty and threatens US national security,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez stated. He said the sanctions would make clear that entities seeking to undermine Washington’s national security “will be cut off from accessing US technologies.”’
The ‘spy balloon’ saga started last week when the Pentagon said it was tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance airship over the US state of Montana. Two days later, it was brought down by a F-22 fighter jet over the water off the coast of South Carolina. While the Pentagon accuses China of using the balloon to “surveil strategic sites” in the US, Beijing described the vessel as a “civilian airship” which strayed into the US territory due to force majeure circumstances.
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China’s foreign ministry said some US politicians and media outlets had “hyped” the incident as a pretext to “attack and smear China,” reiterating that Beijing has “never violated the territory and airspace of any sovereign country.” It described claims that China was targeting the US with an airship surveillance system as nothing but “information warfare.”
US President Joe Biden found himself in hot water over his handling of the incident, with many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle complaining that the balloon should have been downed sooner. However, Biden said he did not want to destroy the aircraft over land due to safety concerns, adding that he didn’t view the incident as a major security breach.
On Friday, the Pentagon also said the president had ordered an unidentified high-altitude object near Alaska to be shot down “out of an abundance of caution.” The department said it did not know to whom the object belonged, but noted that it “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.”