US sanctions six Chinese language tech firms for supporting spy balloon schemes

The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast of Surfside Beach, South Carolina, USA, on February 4, 2023.

Randall Hill | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Commerce Department on Friday announced a new round of sanctions targeting six Chinese aerospace companies it identified as supporting the national military’s reconnaissance balloon program.

The firms will join a growing list of China-based companies that the US says pose a serious threat to national security.

The sanctions announcement came just hours after a US military F-22 shot down the second “high-altitude object” to enter US airspace last week.

“The PRC’s use of high-altitude balloons violates our sovereignty and threatens U.S. national security,” said Alan Estevez, undersecretary for industry and security, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

“Today’s action makes clear that companies seeking to harm U.S. national security and sovereignty will be cut off from access to U.S. technologies,” Estevez said in a Commerce Department statement.

The ship that was shot down on Friday was adrift off the Alaskan coast. A Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down at high altitude off the coast of South Carolina last weekend.

However, the White House was reluctant to characterize the plane involved in Friday’s incident as a balloon.

“We call this an object because that’s the best description we have right now,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, adding that US officials do not yet know which nation or group is responsible.

The new sanctions reflect the government’s renewed focus this week on China’s UAV surveillance programs.

“Today’s action demonstrates our concerted efforts to identify and disrupt the PRC’s use of surveillance balloons that have violated the airspace of the United States and more than forty countries,” said Matthew Axelrod, Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement.

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