China’s Hikvision says it takes US rights concerns ‘seriously’

Hikvision has been accused of supplying public surveillance equipment to the Chinese government to monitor minorities.

The Trump administration may limit Hikvision's ability to buy US technology in response to claims that Hikvision plays a role in the surveillance and mass detention of ethnic minorities in China [Reuters]

The Chinese video-surveillance company that’s reportedly the next target of United States President Donald Trump‘s attempt at curbing Beijing’s technological ambitions says it takes accusations of participating in human rights violations seriously.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the Trump administration is considering limits to Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology’s ability to buy US technology. The newspaper quoted unnamed people familiar with the matter.

The Times said the Trump administration is considering the move against Hikvision for its role in the surveillance and mass detention of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in China‘s far western Xinjiang region.

“Hikvision takes these concerns very seriously and has engaged with the US government regarding all of this since last October,” a Hikvision spokesperson told Al Jazeera via email. “In light of them, it has already retained human rights expert and former US Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper to advise the company regarding human rights compliance.”

Blacklisting Hikvision

Such a move by the US would effectively place Hikvision on a blacklist. US companies would have to obtain government approval before supplying components to the firm.

A recent letter from the chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned Hikvision.

“Of particular concern are reports of U.S. companies that may be contributing to Beijing’s persecution of Uyghurs through their support or commercial ties to Hikvision and Dahua – two Chinese tech giants that have profited from the surge of security spending in Xinjiang,” committee chair Eliot Engel and three cosigners said in the letter.

The Trump administration has already placed Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei on such a list, claiming security risks. On Monday it temporarily eased some of those restrictions to allow Huaewei to maintain existing networks.

Hikvision says it is the world’s leading provider of “innovative security products and solutions”. Its main product lines are security cameras and their related network infrastructure.

Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organisation, has said companies like Hikvision and others supply equipment to Chinese government programmes that monitor the activities of people in Xinjiang.

Hikvision also said: “Separately, Hikvision takes cybersecurity very seriously as a company and follows all applicable laws and regulations in the markets we operate. The company has its products regularly tested for vulnerabilities and has received certifications for their cybersecurity standards, including the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology FIPS 140-2.”

But analysts say the US is using rights issues and concerns over technology theft as cover to pressure China to open its markets to more US goods.

“Technology issues lie at the heart of much of the existing bilateral economic friction, and so we expect this type of pressure to continue,” Nick Marro, an analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) told Al Jazeera.

Trade talks between the US and China are at a standstill for now.

“The EIU still thinks that it’s likely that both sides will step back from further escalation, but this is a very finely judged call,” said Marro.

Meanwhile, another Chinese telecommunications giant that’s also facing US restrictions, China Mobile Communications, says it is assessing the impact of the moves.

“We are keeping an eye on the situation in the States. We will wait and see what the next step should be,” said Yang Jie, China Mobile Communications chairman and executive director, during the company’s annual general meeting in Hong Kong Wednesday.

In early May, the US Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 against China Mobile USA’s bid to offer telecommunications services between the US and other countries. Yang says the company will continue with overseas expansions and investments.

Source: Al Jazeera