US adds 6 Chinese companies tied to balloon program to export blacklist
By Alexandra Alper and Karen Freifeld
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Friday placed six Chinese companies linked to Beijing’s suspected surveillance balloon program on an export blacklist.
The new restrictions come after the White House announced it would consider broader efforts to “uncover and address” China’s major surveillance activities that threaten US national security and allies.
The Commerce Ministry said the five companies and a research institute would “support China’s military modernization efforts, particularly the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aerospace programs, including airships and balloons.”
The spectacle of the Chinese balloon floating over the United States last week sparked political outrage in Washington and brought into focus the challenge China posed to the United States and its allies.
It prompted Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing that both countries had hoped would mend torn ties.
Inclusion in the company list makes it more difficult for target companies to obtain US technology exports. Both US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump have used the list to punish Chinese companies seen as a threat to national security and to thwart Beijing’s military advances.
“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.
The Commerce Ministry said the six entities support the modernization of China’s PLA and its aerospace programs, including airships and balloons.
“The PLA uses high altitude balloons for intelligence and reconnaissance activities,” reads the listing published for the Federal Register, the official US daily newspaper.
Two of the companies are Beijing Nanjiang Aerospace Technology and the 48th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation.
The Biden administration also added the Dongguan Lingkong Remote Sensing Technology, Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group, Guangzhou Tian-Hai-Xiang Aviation Technology and Shanxi Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group.
A Guangzhou Tian-Hai-Xiang Aviation employee said she was unaware of the sanctions and declined to comment further. The company has close ties with the Chinese military and manufactures aerospace products for both civilian and military use, according to its website.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington and the 48th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The state-run 48th Research Institute manufactures sensors for civilian and military use, according to its website.
Beijing Nanjiang, Dongguan Lingkong, Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group and Shanxi Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group could not be reached.
Beijing Nanjiang is a unit of Shanghai-listed developer Deluxe Family, according to a stock exchange filing. The company has partnered with Beihang University to develop China’s first military-civilian short-space airship, dubbed “Dream,” according to the official People’s Daily.
Dongguan Lingkong was indirectly invested by the Institute of Dongguan Beihang University, which develops unmanned airships, according to public registration information. Both Eagles Men Aviation and Shanxi Eagles Men Aviation have been invested by a private equity fund that promotes military-civilian integration.
Washington has said it is confident the maker of the Chinese balloon that the US military shot down off the US east coast last weekend has a “direct relationship” with the PLA.
The US Air Force shot down the balloon off South Carolina on Saturday, a week after it entered US airspace. China’s foreign ministry said it was a weather balloon that went off course and accused the United States of overreacting.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Karen Freifeld, and Alexandra Alper; Writing by Tim Ahmann and Chris Sanders; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Chris Reese, Josie Kao, and Gerry Doyle)