The United States government has expanded its trade blacklist to include some of China‘s top artificial intelligence startups, punishing Beijing for its treatment of Uighur Muslims and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities and ratcheting up tensions ahead of high-level trade talks in Washington this week.
The move by the US Commerce Department targets 20 Chinese public security bureaus and eight companies, including video surveillance firm Hikvision, as well as leaders in facial recognition technology SenseTime Group Ltd and Megvii Technology Ltd.
Also added to the so-called “Entity List” are the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region People’s Government Public Security Bureau, 19 subordinate government agencies and eight commercial firms, according to a Commerce Department filing.
The department filing said the “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 list includes municipal and county public security bureaus and the Xinjiang Police College.
US officials said the announcement was not at all tied to this week’s resumption of trade talks with China.
In response to the decision, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday 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.”
Being added to the “Entity List” bars companies or other entities from buying parts and components from US companies without approval from Washington.
The Commerce Department previously added Huawei Technologies Co and more than 100 affiliates to the Entity List.
Hikvision, officially known as Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd, with a market value of about $42bn, calls itself the world’s largest video surveillance gear maker.
The company receives nearly 30 percent of its 50 billion yuan ($7bn) in revenue from overseas, according to a report in August by Reuters news agency.
A US Hikvision spokesman said the company “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 added.
In April, a bipartisan group of US legislators urged the move against Chinese companies it called “complicit in human rights abuses” and specifically cited Hikvision and another video surveillance company, Dahua.
China faces growing condemnation from Western capitals and rights groups for setting up facilities that United Nations experts describe as mass detention centres holding more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week at the Vatican that “when the state rules absolutely, it demands its citizens worship government, not God. That’s why China has put more than one million Uighur Muslims … in internment camps and is why it throws Christian pastors in jail.”
John Honovich, founder of surveillance video research company IPVM, said Hikvision and Dahua both used Intel Corp, Nvidia Corp, Ambarella Inc, Western Digital and Seagate Technology as suppliers – and that the effect on the Chinese companies would be “devastating”.
Shares in Ambarella, a California-based semiconductor company, fell 12 percent in after-hours trading on the news.
In August, the Trump administration released an interim rule banning federal purchases of telecommunications equipment from five Chinese companies, including Huawei and Hikvision.
Huawei has repeatedly denied it is controlled by the Chinese government, military or intelligence services and has filed a lawsuit against the US government’s restrictions.