US blacklists dozens of Chinese tech companies and agencies over ‘brutal oppression’ of Uighurs

Measure targets video surveillance and facial recognition developers, as well as local government agencies in Xinjiang

Adam Withnall
Asia Editor
Tuesday 08 October 2019 07:49
Drone footage purports to show prisoners in China shackled and blindfolded

The US has blacklisted 28 Chinese companies and government agencies over what it called the “brutal” treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang province.

The banned groups are mostly technology companies, developing facial recognition, artificial intelligence and video surveillance equipment which the American government said was being used to repress minority groups.

The US Commerce Department’s announcement late on Monday places the groups on its “Entity List”, defining them as acting against America’s foreign policy interests. It effectively bans US firms from dealing with the companies without government approval.

China has been accused of detaining more than a million Uighurs in northwestern Xinjiang in a campaign of persecution that effectively amounts to cultural genocide, banning elements of their Muslim heritage and inculcating in them mainstream Chinese views, language and support for the Communist Party.

China says it uses voluntary “vocational training centres” across the province to combat the threat of extremism, saying it is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said in a written statement that the government “will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China”.

The filing said the listed groups, which included several local government agencies in Xinjiang, have been implicated in “China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim minority groups.

The Trump administration used the same blacklisting process earlier this year to punish Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, over national security concerns. In June it added five more Chinese groups to the list that were working in supercomputing.

Mr Ross said the newest action would ensure US technologies “are not used to repress defenceless minority populations”.

SenseTime, one of the blacklisted firms, said it was “deeply disappointed” with the decision and would work with the US authorities in an attempt to resolve the situation.

Another of the companies, Hikvision, is valued at more than £34bn and describes itself as the largest maker of video surveillance equipment in the world.

It said it “strongly opposes” the blacklisting and pointed out that it had retained a human rights expert and former US ambassador to advise the company on human rights compliance. The government’s decision, a spokesman said, would deter other companies and “negatively impact the US economy”.

While China is accused of beginning its current crackdown on the Uighurs at least as far back as 2017, the Trump administration’s decision to act now is significant.

The move comes as it was confirmed that China’s chief trade envoy is going to Washington on Thursday for talks aimed at putting an end to the trade war between the two countries. The two sides have raised import duties on billions of pounds worth of each other’s goods, fuelling fears their dispute might tip the global economy into recession.

Vice Premier Liu He will lead a delegation that will include China’s commerce minister and central bank governor and industry, technology and agriculture regulators, Beijing’s commerce ministry said.

Both sides have made a number of conciliatory moves in recent days ahead of the meeting, but the blacklisting of another 28 Chinese groups shows Donald Trump is unwilling to give up on his hardline stance.

US officials told Reuters the action on Xinjiang was not tied to this week’s resumption of trade talks.

Additional reporting by agencies

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