China has been accused of genocide against the largely Muslim group, but Beijing says it is only tackling extremism.
The Biden administration is set to add more than 10 Chinese companies to its economic blacklist as early as Friday for alleged human rights abuses and high-tech surveillance in Xinjiang, two sources told the Reuters news agency.
The US Commerce Department action follows the addition of five other companies and other Chinese entities to the blacklist over allegations of forced labour in the far western region of China.
The additions to Commerce Department’s Entity List are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to hold China accountable for human rights violations, the sources said.
China dismisses accusations of genocide and forced labour in Xinjiang and says its policies are necessary to stamp out separatists and religious extremists, who plotted attacks and stirred up tension between mostly Muslim ethnic Uighurs and Han, China’s largest ethnic group.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One of the sources said the department plans to add 14 Chinese companies to the Entity List for reported abuses in Xinjiang.
The identities of the companies being added were not immediately known. Some companies from other countries are also set to be added to the department’s blacklist as soon as Friday.
The White House declined to comment, while the Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abuse of Uighurs
The additions are the latest salvo as President Joe Biden presses China for what the administration has said are worsening human rights abuses against the Uighur population in Xinjiang.
Generally, entity-listed companies are required to apply for licences from the Commerce Department and face tough scrutiny when they seek permission to receive items from US suppliers.
Last month, the Commerce Department said it was adding the five Chinese entities “for accepting or utilising forced labour in the implementation of the People’s Republic of China’s campaign of repression against Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”.
The department said the action in June targeted the ability of the five entities, including Chinese-based solar panel material firm Hoshine Silicon Industry, “to access commodities, software, and technology … and is part of a US Government-wide effort to take strong action against China’s ongoing campaign of repression against Muslim minority groups” in Xinjiang.
This is not the first time the US government has targeted Chinese firms linked to allegations of high-tech surveillance activity in Xinjiang.
In 2019, the Trump administration added some of China’s top artificial intelligence startups to its economic blacklist for its treatment of Muslim minorities.
The Commerce Department under Trump targeted 20 Chinese public security bureaus and eight companies including video surveillance firm Hikvision, as well as leaders in facial recognition technology SenseTime Group and Megvii Technology.
The Commerce Department said in 2019 the entities were implicated in “high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.”
UN experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, most of them Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.