US blacklists Chinese biotech industry over Uyghur surveillance

Washington (AFP) – The United States on Thursday put Chinese biotechnology organizations on a trade blacklist, accusing them of advancing high-tech surveillance on the Uyghur minority.


The sanctions were the latest in a string of actions by President Joe Biden's administration against Chinese interests amid high tensions, with the United States a day earlier targeting producers of painkillers that have fueled an addiction epidemic.

In the latest measures, the Commerce Department restricted sensitive exports to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences and 11 of its research institutes over its biotechnology work including "purported brain-control weaponry," a notice said.

Human rights groups have recounted unprecedented surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uyghur people in the northwestern region of Xinjiang including tracing with DNA and artificial intelligence operations to recognize and monitor faces.

The research institutes targeted by the latest US actions include centers focused on blood transfusions, bioengineering and toxicology.

"The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, the PRC is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups," she said, using the abbreviation for the People's Republic of China.

"We cannot allow US commodities, technologies and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to US national security."

The Commerce Department also blacklisted companies from China, as well as Georgia, Malaysia and Turkey, for allegedly diverting US items to the military of Iran, a US adversary on which Washington maintains sweeping sanctions.

Based in Beijing, the Academy of Military Medical Sciences has been active in development of a Covid-19 vaccine. But the United States has been increasingly alarmed by the connections between civilian and military research in China.

Growing action on Xinjiang

Rights experts, witnesses and the US government say that more than one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps in an effort to root out their Islamic cultural traditions and forcibly homogenize them into China's Han majority.

Beijing describes the sites as vocational training centers and says that, like many Western nations, it is seeking to reduce the allure of radical Islam following deadly attacks.

The United States has described the campaign as genocide and, amid mounting concern, plans a boycott of official representation at the Beijing Winter Games next year.

The United States is also expected soon to become the first country to ban all imports from Xinjiang, arguing that camp labor is so prevalent that it is difficult to separate it from other goods.

A worker unloads cotton picked from Xinjiang at a railway station in Jiujiang in China's central Jiangxi province in March 2021
A worker unloads cotton picked from Xinjiang at a railway station in Jiujiang in China's central Jiangxi province in March 2021 STR AFP/File

After prolonged negotiations, lawmakers from the two parties and the Biden administration reached an agreement on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act which will ban the import of all goods from the region unless there is verifiable proof that production did not involve slavery.

Xinjiang is a major source of cotton, with the Workers Rights Consortium, which monitors factories, estimating that 20 percent of the garments imported into the United States each year include some material from the region.

"We must take a clear moral position to stand with those who are suffering because of forced labor. No more business as usual," Representative Jim McGovern said after the House last week approved the act which is expected to clear the Senate and be signed by Biden.

The United States last week also imposed sanctions on two ethnic Uyghur political leaders in the Chinese administration of Xinjiang.

China earlier Thursday voiced anger over US sanctions on four Chinese chemical weapons and one individual for allegedly fueling the painkiller trade through illicit online shipments.

"These kinds of erroneous acts, in which one side is sick but forces the other to take the medicine, is not constructive," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.