China launched four medium-range ballistic missiles into the South China Sea on Wednesday amid broader military exercises by the People’s Liberation Army. The missiles landed in the sea in an area between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands, the official said, and were fired a day after Beijing protested a flyover by a U.S. spy plane.
“As long as they’re doing it in accordance with international law and norms they have every right to do so,”
a U.S. navy vice admiral, told reporters on Thursday in response to a question about the missile tests. He said the U.S. is ready to respond to any threats in the region, and said if all militaries operate professionally
“you can have the same ships in the same water space.”
Separately on Wednesday, the U.S. announced trade and visa restrictions on 24 companies for their efforts to help China “reclaim and militarize disputed outposts” in the contested maritime area, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
In a related statement, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. would impose visa restrictions on Chinese individuals “responsible for, or complicit in, either the large-scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of” South China Sea land.
A senior State Department official said the visa restrictions were the “mere start” of what could be more U.S. action to punish China over its reclamation work in the South China Sea. The official encouraged other countries to take similar measures against the people who were targeted to make it even harder for them to conduct business abroad.
The escalating tensions come as the Trump administration is trying to push back against what the US sees as an intensifying Chinese campaign to dominate the resource-rich South China Sea and smaller nations in the region. Last month it explicitly rejected China’s expansive maritime claims in the region for the first time, and sent aircraft carriers to the waters to conduct military exercises.
President Donald Trump has taken a tough stand against China, a key element of his re-election campaign against former Vice President Joe Biden, even as the two nations seek to sustain a “phase one” trade deal reached early this year.