WE HINTED YESTERDAY that the United States might look to impose sanctions on those companies and banks building the infrastructure supporting China’s efforts to bring under its sway those Southeast Asian countries through which the Mekong River flows. Washington has now gone down a similar path with regards to the South China Sea.
Yesterday, the US Commerce Department added two dozen Chinese firms to its ‘entity list’ for ‘helping the Chinese military construct and militarize the internationally condemned artificial islands in the South China Sea’. Listing bars US firms from selling to the blacklisted firms without a special licence.
In parallel, the US State Department said it was imposing visa restrictions on individuals involved in the island-building and militarisation of the waters. It expanded the remit to include ‘coercion against Southeast Asian claimants’.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian brushed off Washington, saying,
The participation of Chinese companies and individuals in domestic construction activities is legitimate, lawful and beyond reproach.
Meanwhile, China reportedly launched two land-based ‘carrier killer’ missiles into the South China Sea in the direction of the disputed Paracel Islands and said that a US U-2 spy plane had entered a declared no-fly zone during a Chinese live-fire exercise in the Bohai Sea near the coast of northern China.
According to Defence ministry spokeman Wu Qian,
China firmly opposes such provocative actions and has lodged solemn representations with the US side.
All as to be expected.
Nonetheless, Beijing is unlikely to be dissuaded in its South China Sea ambitions. It views them as essential to secure its southwestern sea lanes — just as its growing network of road, rail and river links in Southeast Asia is to provide alternatives.
Sanctions are unlikely to prove any more of a deterrent than they have been with Hong Kong or the Uighurs in Xinjiang. The horses have already bolted. In the South China Sea, however, military exercises always risk accidents. The intensifying political sensitivity of the area will make de-escalating flashpoints more difficult.