China tells US to reverse decision to blacklist Xinjiang tech firms
Surveillance and facial recognition firms targeted over their role in the region, where one million Muslims are reported to have been detained.
Beijing declines to say whether it will retaliate as two sides prepare to resume trade talks.
Beijing has demanded that the US revoke a decision to add 28 Chinese government and business entities to an export blacklist over their role in Xinjiang – but stopped short of saying whether it would retaliate.
Speaking days before high-level trade talks resume in Washington, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters to “stay tuned” when asked if China would act over the blacklisting of some of the country’s biggest producers of surveillance equipment and artificial intelligence start-ups.
He went on to accuse the US of having “sinister intentions” and said Washington should immediately correct its mistakes and stop interfering in China’s affairs.
“China will continue to take firm and forceful measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” he said.
The US Commerce Department said the entities had been targeted over the “brutal suppression” of Muslims in the region, where China has been accused of detaining more than a million ethnic Uygurs and other Muslims – the equivalent of around 10 per cent of the Uygur population.
Geng denied that human rights abuses were occurring in the far western region, saying: “The so-called human rights issue of the US does not exist in Xinjiang. The measures taken by China to eliminate extremism from the roots are fully in line with Chinese law and international practice.”
Noting his remarks were more conciliatory than another ministry statement in May, analysts said Beijing was apparently more concerned about the fate of the first official trade talks in more than two months.
US adds Chinese surveillance giant Hikvision to trade blacklist
The US Commerce Department expanded its trade blacklist on Monday to include 20 local public security bureaus in Xinjiang and eight technology giants, including Hikvision and Zhejiang Dahua Technology, two of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance products.
The list also includes leaders in facial recognition technology, SenseTime Group and Megvii Technology, as well as other companies that specialise in voice recognition and data – iFlytek, Xiamen Meiya Pico Information and Yixin Science and Technology.
These entities have been involved “in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention and high-technology surveillance against Uygurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups” in Xinjiang, the Commerce Department said in the filing.
A spokesman for the department said the move was unrelated to trade negotiations, but said it would not tolerate “brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China”.
Hikvision said in a statement that it strongly opposed the decision and had been trying to address the US administration’s concerns for the past year.
The punishment will “hurt Hikvision’s US business partners and negatively impact the US economy,” the company said.
Reuters reported that in August Hikvision, officially known as Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd, with a market value of about US$42 billion, receives nearly 30 per cent of its US$7 billion in revenue from overseas.
Lu Xiang, a research fellow on US issues with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the blacklist “is a very unfriendly move by the US government and not helpful to the overall US-China relations” ahead of the trade talks.
“It’s an issue apart from the trade front, and the Chinese delegation won’t discuss the Xinjiang issue with the US in the trade talks,” he said.
The Commerce Department previously added Huawei and more than 100 affiliates to the entity list, despite the Chinese tech giant’s repeated denials that it has links to the Chinese government, military or intelligence services. It is now suing the US government over the restrictions.
Julian Ku, a professor at Hofstra University's law school, said it was unusual to use the entity list to target human rights abuses and the move marked a major shift in how it was used.
“For the very first time anywhere, a government is taking concrete action against China over its policies in Xinjiang. Up to now, it's all been talk (and not even that much talk). Now, at least, we have a little action,” he tweeted.
But he said blacklisting the entities was not as harsh as imposing sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, which Human Rights Watch and members of Congress have called for.
In April, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers urged the move against Chinese companies that were “complicit in human rights abuses” specifically citing Hikvision and Dahua.
While it is still possible for US exporters to petition for licences to sell to Hikvision and other affected Chinese companies on the entity list, the Magnitsky Act was designed to target global human rights violators with freezes on any US assets, US travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them.
“In other words, this might be the least worst option for Hikvision, etc, since they may not be totally cut off from the US market. And the administration can say it is doing something on Xinjiang (which it is, but not as much as it could do),” Ku said.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio praised the Commerce Department’s move. “The Trump administration is sending a strong, clear message that the United States will hold the Chinese government and Communist Party and their enablers accountable for Beijing’s large-scale, systematic and egregious human rights abuses against Uygurs and other religious ethnic minorities in Xinjiang,” Rubio said.
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