Washington is adding 28 Chinese companies, government offices and security bureaus to a United States blacklist over their alleged role in facilitating human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.
Monday’s announcement targets some of China’s top artificial intelligence companies in a similar way to the US move against smartphone giant Huawei earlier this year, and comes just days before crucial trade talks between the two sides.
In a statement, the US Commerce Department said “these entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in [Xinjiang].”
For the last two-and-a-half years, China has been detaining hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in what Beijing alternately describes as “voluntary de-radicalization camps” and “vocational training centers.”
Former detainees have described them as closer to internment camps, however, and allegations of abuse are rampant, including in firsthand accounts given to CNN describing torture and forced political re-education under the threat of violence.
Chinese officials have long defended the crackdown in Xinjiang as necessary to tackle extremism and in line with Chinese law and international practice. In a statement Tuesday, Beijing said the US accusations were “groundless and senseless” and the sanctions on its organizations and companies “seriously violated the basic rules of international relations.”
“We urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes, withdraw relevant decisions and stop interfering with China’s internal affairs,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry. “China will continue to take resolute measures to firmly safeguard its national sovereignty and developmental interests.”
The organizations targeted by the United States are now barred from buying US products or importing American technology. The list includes 20 government and security bureaus in Xinjiang, and eight companies, including Hikvision, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of AI-driven video surveillance products, and Meiya Pico, a leading digital forensics firm.
“The US Government and Department of Commerce cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “This action will ensure that our technologies, fostered in an environment of individual liberty and free enterprise, are not used to repress defenseless minority populations.”
Shares in Hikvision — which has previously been accused by US lawmakers of helping China create a “high-tech police state” — were suspended in Shenzhen following the move.
Hikvision said the company strongly opposed the US decision, adding it had been working with Trump administration officials over the last 12 months “to clarify misunderstandings about the company and address their concerns.”
“Hikvision, as the security industry’s global leader, respects human rights and takes our responsibility to protect people in the US and the world seriously,” a company spokesperson said.
Meiya Pico has yet to publicly comment.
The blacklisting of Chinese organizations comes just before high-level trade talks are due to resume in Washington on Thursday in the hopes of finding a way to end the damaging US-China trade war.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, President Donald Trump said “my inclination is to get a big deal. We’ve come this far. We’re doing well.”
“Can something happen? I guess, maybe. Who knows? But I think it’s probably unlikely. Okay?” Trump added.
The American leader is facing intense scrutiny over his apparent request to Chinese authorities to look into his potential Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, over the former vice president and his son’s business dealings in China.
During a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping about Biden, Trump promised to remain quiet on ongoing anti-government unrest in Hong Kong if trade talks progressed, according to two people familiar with the discussion.
He denied promising to stay quiet Monday, “but I (did) say that we are negotiating. If anything happened bad, I think that would be a very bad for the negotiation.”