WASHINGTON — The Biden administration clamped down on Friday on sales of some U.S. technology to several Chinese aviation and technology companies, as part of its response to a Chinese spy balloon that traversed U.S. airspace last week.
The Commerce Department added five Chinese companies and one research institute to its so-called entity list, which will prevent companies from selling them American parts and technologies without a special license. Officials said the six entities had supported Chinese military programs related to airships and balloons used for intelligence and reconnaissance.
Alan Estevez, the under secretary of commerce for industry and security, said the action was a direct response to the Chinese government’s use of high-altitude balloons for surveillance.
“Today’s action makes clear that entities that seek to harm U.S. national security and sovereignty will be cut off from accessing U.S. technologies,” he said.
The restrictions mark the Biden administration’s first economic retaliation over the balloon, which the United States shot down last Saturday off the coast of South Carolina after it had floated across much of the country. The administration has mostly registered its anger through diplomatic channels, including the cancellation of a trip by the secretary of state to Beijing.
Republicans have condemned the administration for not responding more forcefully, including by not shooting the balloon down before it moved out to sea. The White House said it was following the advice of the Pentagon, which feared the debris could hurt people on the ground.
The Chinese government has tried to downplay the incident, arguing that the balloon was a civilian device for monitoring weather.
The entities that the United States targeted Friday were Beijing Nanjiang Aerospace Technology Company, Dongguan Lingkong Remote Sensing Technology Company, Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group Company, Guangzhou Tian-Hai-Xiang Aviation Technology Company, Shanxi Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group Company and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation 48th Research Institute.
The Commerce Department did not specify whether the companies and the institute had played a direct role in developing or operating the balloon that flew across the United States. But the Biden administration said earlier this week that it would consider taking action against any entities that had aided the balloon’s flight.
The government has not yet publicized information about parties involved in the balloon’s manufacture or voyage. But it has said the machine was part of a global surveillance fleet directed by China’s military and was capable of collecting electronic communications.
The United States has steadily ramped up its use of the entity list over the last few years, using it to cut off the flow of advanced technologies to rivals like China and Russia. In October, it added a crop of Chinese companies involved in advanced semiconductors to the list, arguing that such technologies were aiding the Chinese military.
On Friday, the U.S. government shot down another unidentified object near Alaska. It was not immediately clear which country or company was responsible for it.