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China sanctions Lockheed, Raytheon after vowing to retaliate against US restrictions

 (CNN) — China has imposed sanctions on two American defense manufacturers over arms sales to Taiwan, a day after Beijing pledged to take “countermeasures” in response to Washington’s handling of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that entered US airspace late last month.

Lockheed Martin Corporation and Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies Corp, will be added to China’s sanctions list, its Ministry of Commerce said in a Thursday statement. They are banned from importing, exporting and investing in China.

Both companies are also subject to fines “twice the amount” of their arms sales to Taiwan dating back to September 2020, and their senior executives will be prohibited from entering and working in China.

It was not immediately clear how Beijing would enforce the fines. While the United States prohibits the sale of weapons to China, some US defense contractors have ties to civilian sectors.

Beijing has previously imposed sanctions on both companies in relation to their arms sales to Taiwan, without specifying what the penalties would entail and how they would be enforced. China’s ruling Communist Party views democratic Taiwan as its territory, despite never having controlled it.

The move comes just days after the US Commerce Department restricted six Chinese companies that it said were tied to the Chinese army’s aerospace program from obtaining US technology without government authorization. That move came after American forces downed what it called a Chinese surveillance balloon that entered its airspace late last month.

Thursday’s Chinese commerce ministry statement made no mention of the downed balloon, nor the US sanctions on Chinese entities. Instead, it cited “national sovereignty” as the catalyst for the penalties while highlighting both companies’ sales of arms to Taiwan.

The move comes at a moment of heightened US-China tension in the wake of the balloon incident.

Washington has since accused China of overseeing an international aerial surveillance program. Beijing has denied those claims and, in turn, this week accused the United States of “illegally” flying high-altitude balloons into its airspace more than 10 times since the start of 2022 — including over its western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.

China maintains that the balloon found over the United States was a civilian research aircraft accidentally blown off course. US intelligence officials are assessing the possibility that the suspected spy balloon was not deliberately maneuvered over the continental US by the Chinese government, but was diverted off course, CNN reported on Wednesday.

The incident has already sent ties into a downward spiral and resulted in the postponement of an expected visit from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China earlier this month. The trip was expected to help ease tension between the two powers following a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in Bali in November.