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US Sanctions Chinese Companies Over South China Sea Dispute  

FILE - In this Monday, May 11, 2015, file photo, This aerial photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows China's alleged on-going reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The dispute over the…

The United States imposed sanctions Wednesday on 24 Chinese companies and several people who allegedly participated in building and militarizing disputed artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The U.S. Commerce Department said in a statement the companies played a “role in helping the Chinese military” with the construction project, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate announcement that it was placing visa restrictions on individuals “responsible” or “complicit” in the project.

“Since 2013, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has used its state-owned enterprises to dredge and reclaim more than 3,000 acres on disputed features in the South China Sea, destabilizing the region, trampling on the sovereign rights of its neighbors, and causing untold environmental devastation,” Pompeo said.

The actions are the latest steps the U.S. has taken against China for its military buildup on territory in the South China Sea, where sovereignty is claimed by several countries.

The U.S. accused China in June of trying to build a “maritime empire” in the South China Sea.

China did not immediately respond to the sanctions. China claims at least 80% of the South China sea, which is home to vast oil and gas reserves. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim jurisdiction to parts of the area through which trade valued at $3 trillion passes annually.

Among the sanctioned state-owned companies are construction giant China Communications Construction Co., a subsidiary of the China Shipbuilding Group, and a telecommunications company.