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US restricting travel of individuals over Beijing's moves in South China Sea

US restricting travel of individuals over Beijing's moves in South China Sea
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The State Department announced Wednesday that it is implementing travel restrictions on some Chinese officials over Beijing’s moves to bolster its presence in the South China Sea.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting US critical facilities with destructive malware Trump announces opening of relations between Sudan and Israel MORE said in a statement that the government will impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials “responsible for, or complicit in, either the large-scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, or the [People's Republic of China’s] use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources.” 

Those targeted will now be “inadmissible” to the U.S., and restrictions could extend to their family members as well. Twenty-four Chinese state-owned companies will also face new sanctions. 

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“The United States supports a free and open South China Sea. We respect the sovereign rights of all nations, regardless of size, and seek to preserve peace and uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law,” said Pompeo.

China’s burgeoning presence in the South China Sea is one of several points of contention in the acrimonious relationship between Washington and Beijing. China claims sovereignty over about 80 percent of a 1.4 million-square-mile section of the South China Sea and has drawn international ire by building military installations throughout the waterway. The U.S. maintains the area must remain open for free passage for all international vessels. 

Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and other Asian nations have also made territorial claims to parts of the area.

The South China Sea is of extreme economic and geopolitical importance. Roughly a third of the world’s maritime shipping passes through the area, and the sea floor is believed to contain massive oil and natural gas reserves.

Beijing has rebuked Washington’s stance on the sea, accusing the U.S. of “flexing muscles” last month after the administration issued a formal statement declaring most of China's claims in the region to be illegitimate.

“The United States is not a country directly involved in the disputes. However, it has kept interfering in the issue,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. said in a statement. “Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region.”