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US blacklists 28 Chinese companies 'implicated in brutal Uighur repression'

Video surveillance company Hikvision is among the entities targeted [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 October, 2019

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The US has imposed sanctions against 28 Chinese companies it says are involved in repression of Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, amid an ongoing US-China trade war.
The US is to blacklist 28 Chinese entities that it says are implicated in rights violations and abuses targeting Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, the US Commerce Department announced.

The United States "cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said, announcing the move, which bars the named entities from purchasing US products.

Beijing on Tuesday slammed the US move, saying the claims are "groundless".

"This act seriously violates the basic norms of international relations, interferes with China's internal affairs and damages the interests of the Chinese side, and China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to this," said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing.

The blacklisted firms included video surveillance company Hikvision, as well as artificial intelligence companies Megvii Technology and SenseTime, according to an update to the US Federal Register set to be published Wednesday.

The ban comes amid heightened tensions between the US and China, particularly over trade policy and Beijing's actions in the western Xinjiang region.

Read more: Protect Uighur Muslims Abroad: They’re Refugees Fleeing China’s Oppression

The world's two biggest economies are in the midst of a trade war, having exchanged punitive tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

On Monday, the White House announced that talks between the two countries were set to resume on Thursday, with Beijing's top trade envoy Liu He due to meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The US has meanwhile stepped up its rhetoric against Beijing over its oppressive policies in the western Xinjiang region.

Rights groups say China has detained around one million Uighurs and other Muslims in re-education camps in the region - actions that Washington has said are reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

A recently published video showing dozens of Uighur detainees blindfolded and shackled at a Chinese detention centre caused global outrage. There have also been reports that Uighur women have been forcibly sterilized in detention centres and that prisoners have been killed so that their organs could be harvested.

During last month's United Nations General Assembly, the State Department organized an event to highlight the plight of the Uighurs, with the US's second-highest diplomat John Sullivan decrying "China's horrific campaign of repression."

"In Xinjiang, the Chinese government prevents Muslims from praying and reading the Quran, and it has destroyed or defaced a great number of mosques," Sullivan said.

"This is a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to stop its own citizens from exercising their unalienable right to religious freedom."

China had until recently denied the existence of re-education camps, but now claims they are "vocational training schools" necessary to control terrorism, while decrying interference in its "internal affairs."

Huawei targeted

The 28 entities blacklisted include 18 public security bureaus in Xinjiang, one police college and eight businesses.

"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," the Federal Register update said.

Megvii, which is backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba, said in a statement that it "strongly" protests against the decision, which it insisted was "without any factual basis."

The company said its technology had "a positive impact on society."

The blacklisting of the Chinese companies follows Washington's earlier move to stop technology giant Huawei and other Chinese firms from obtaining government contracts.

Hikvision was also included in that ban, which will preclude any US federal agency from purchasing telecom or technology equipment from the firms and comes amid concern that Huawei is linked to Chinese intelligence.

The US fears that systems built by Huawei could be used by Beijing for espionage via secret "backdoors" built into telecom networking equipment.

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