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.
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 on 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.
The world’s two-biggest economies are engaged in 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 to meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The US has, meanwhile, stepped up its rhetoric against Beijing over its policies in the western Xinjiang region.
Rights groups say China has detained about one million Uighurs and other Muslims in “re-education” camps in the region – actions that Washington has said are reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
During last month’s United Nations General Assembly, the State Department organised 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 the camps, but now claims they are “vocational training schools” necessary to control “terrorism”, while decrying interference in its “internal affairs”.
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 it “strongly” protests 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 agencies.
The US fears that systems built by Huawei could be used by Beijing for espionage via secret “backdoors” built into telecommunications networking equipment.