The United States has imposed sanctions on five Chinese companies and a North Korean state enterprise for sales to Iran that could help that country's weapons of mass destruction programs. The action was announced as a senior Chinese official ended a Washington visit that included U.S. criticism of China's recent human rights record.
The announcement published in the U.S. government official journal, The Federal Register, said the companies were being penalized for providing items to Iran that could make a "material contribution" to Iran's development of missiles or weapons of mass destruction.
Most of the affected companies were already subject to U.S. sanctions for similar sales. These included the China North Industries Corporation, NORINCO, which was cited only two months ago for allegedly selling missile technology to Iran.
The North Korean state enterprise, the Changwang Sinyong Corporation, has been cited at least twice before by the United States for exports of missile components and technology.
The sanctions to be in place for two years would, among other things, bar any U.S. government contracts with the named companies and forbid exports of U.S. high technology to them.
China has protested the imposition of such sanctions in the past and its companies have denied any wrongdoing.
The sanctions announcement came on the last day of a Washington visit by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, though officials here said the timing was coincidental.
Mr. Wang has had three days of meetings with senior Bush administration officials including Secretary of State Colin Powell on North Korea, proliferation and regional political issues.
The State Department said in an meeting with Mr. Wang earlier this week, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage complained of a "deterioration" in China's human rights performance.
The State Department elaborated in a written statement, saying the Bush administration has been disappointed by a number of "troubling incidents" since the beginning of the year.
These include, it said, the execution of a Tibetan activist without due process, the forced repatriation of 18 Tibetans from Nepal in late May in contravention of U.N. practices, the arrests of a number of Chinese democracy activists, and the "muzzling" of media outlets reporting politically sensitive issues.
The U.S. statement said the "backsliding" is of great concern to the United States and the international community.
It said the United States decided not to pursue a resolution critical of China at this year's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva based on assurances by Beijing that human rights cooperation "would get back on track."
It said the U.S. gesture was a "good faith effort" to find a new way forward on improving human rights in China. It said the United States urges China to take steps to assure its citizens are not persecuted for the peaceful expression of their views, and to release all prisoners of conscience.