The US Commerce Department has added 28 Chinese public security bureaus and companies to a trade blacklist over their role in Beijing’s treatment of Muslim ethnic minorities.
This announcement comes just days before high-level trade talks are set to resume in Washington. The Trump administration has said that the timing of the action didn’t have anything to do with trade talks. Nonetheless, the move is likely to disturb Chinese officials, who are already incensed over what they see as US support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
“I think the Chinese are probably going to see a connection, even if the administration says there isn’t one,” said Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s going to complicate the discussions this week…the timing is going to be awkward for the Chinese.”
Among the companies placed on the list are Hikvision and Dahua Technology, two of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance products, as well as several of China’s newly emerging artificial intelligence and voice-recognition startups.
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 Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in northwest China’s Xinjiang region,” the Commerce Department said.
“The US Government and the Department of Commerce cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said. “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.”
In response to the decision, China’s foreign ministry said that China would continue to take firm and resolute measures to protect its sovereign security.
“We urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes and withdraw the relevant decisions,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “China will continue to resolutely safeguard the country’s sovereignty, security, and development interests.”
A Hikvision spokesman said the company also “strongly opposes” the decision and noted that in January it retained a human rights expert and former US ambassador to advise the company on human rights compliance.
“Punishing Hikvision despite these engagements will deter global companies from communicating with the US government, hurt Hikvision’s US business partners, and negatively impact the US economy,” the company said.
In recent months, China has faced growing condemnation from human rights groups and Western capitals for its detention of more than a million ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims in facilities that UN experts describe as mass detention centers.
Beijing claims that its advanced surveillance systems are an effort to fight Islamic extremism among the Uighurs, but Human Rights Watch has said these violations are of a “scope and scale not seen in China since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called China’s treatment of the Uighurs the “stain of the century.”
“When the state rules absolutely, human dignity is trampled, not cherished,” Pompeo said on October 2 at the Vatican. “When the state rules absolutely, moral norms are crushed completely. When the state rules absolutely, it demands its citizens worship government, not God.”