The administration of US President Donald Trump is poised to add China’s top chipmaker SMIC and national offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC to a blacklist of alleged Chinese military companies, the according to local news agency based on a document and sources.

The move would curb the companies’ access to investors in the US, escalating tensions with Beijing weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Local news agency reported earlier this month that the Department of Defense (DoD) was planning to designate four more Chinese companies as being owned or controlled by the Chinese military, bringing the number of Chinese companies affected to 35.

It was not immediately clear when the new tranche would be published in the Federal Register. But the list comprises China Construction Technology Co Ltd and China International Engineering Consulting Corp, in addition to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), according to the document and three sources.

The move, along with similar policies, is seen as an attempt by Trump to cement his tough-on-China legacy and to box incoming Biden into hard-line positions on Beijing amid bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress.

Military ties?

The list is also part of a broader effort by Washington to target what it sees as Beijing’s efforts to use corporations to harness emerging civilian technologies for military purposes. Trump has banned the sale of key components such as computer chips to China’s Huawei, a world leader in latest-generation 5G mobile phone technology, accusing it of helping Beijing spy on its rivals.

It has also been trying to force Byte Dance, the Chinese owner of the wildly popular social video app TikTok, to sell the US operations of the app to American firms. The Trump administration says TikTok could allow Beijing to gather US user data.

Both Huawei and TikTok have repeatedly denied the allegations. Local news agency reported last week that the Trump administration is close to declaring that 89 Chinese aerospace and other companies have military ties, restricting them from buying a range of US goods and technology.

SMIC was already in Washington’s crosshairs. In September, the US Department of Commerce imposed restrictions on exports to the company after concluding there was an “unacceptable risk” that equipment supplied to it could be used for military purposes.

The list of “Communist Chinese Military Companies” was mandated by a 1999 law requiring the Pentagon to compile a catalogue of companies “owned or controlled” by the People’s Liberation Army, but the DoD only complied in 2020. Giants like Hikvision, China Telecom and China Mobile were added earlier this year.

This month, the White House published an executive order, first reported by local news agency, that sought to give teeth to the list by prohibiting US investors from buying securities of the blacklisted companies from November 2021.

The directive is unlikely to deal the firms a serious blow, experts said, due to its limited scope, uncertainty about the stance of the Biden administration and already-scant holdings by US funds. Still, combined with other measures, it deepens a rift between Washington and Beijing, already at loggerheads over the coronavirus and China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.

US Congress and the administration have sought increasingly to curb the US market access of Chinese companies that do not comply with rules faced by American rivals, even if that means antagonising Wall Street.