A People's Liberation Army soldier during training at the Pamir Mountains in Kashgar in Xinjiang region. Beijing blames the Uighur East Turkestan Islamic Movement for violence in the region. Photo: AFP

China has promised tough measures in retaliation after the US sanctioned more than 40 of its institutions and companies on Thursday over human rights issues in Xinjiang.

“China is strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposes the US sanctions,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Friday. “China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese institutions and companies. The US must immediately correct its mistakes.”

Wang said the US had extended the concept of national security without limit and used excuses to unreasonably suppress Chinese institutions and enterprises. He said the US had reached the point of hysteria and showed no moral principles.

On Monday, SenseTime Group, a Hong Kong-based artificial intelligence company, halted its initial public offering plan in Hong Kong after it was sanctioned by the US last Friday and accused of using its facial recognition technology in mass surveillance in Xinjiang. However, media reports said the company would restart its IPO plan next week as it had gained support from Chinese funds as cornerstone investors.

The human rights issues of the Uighur people in Xinjiang have been a key topic in US-China relations for some years. Mike Pompeo, former US secretary of state, said on January 19 that since at least March 2017, China, under the direction and control of the Communist Party, had committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The Biden administration later maintained such determination.

On November 16, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden had a three and a half hour virtual meeting and discussed key issues related to US-China relations, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, but did not reach any agreement on these issues.

On December 7, the US announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, accusing China of repressing the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom also said they would not send officials to the Games.

Last Friday, the US State Department announced visa restrictions on two Chinese officials due to their involvement in “gross violations of human rights in Xinjiang.”

A worker unloads cotton picked from Xinjiang at a railway station in Jiujiang in China’s central Jiangxi province. Photo: AFP

On the same day, the US Treasury Department put SenseTime Group on its Non-SDN Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Companies (NS-CMIC) list and barred US investors from taking financial stakes in the company. SenseTime was accused of having developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying Uighurs.

SenseTime said on Monday that it strongly opposed the US decision to put it on the NS-CMIC list. It said the accusations were groundless and scientific research should not be affected by geopolitics.

Wang said Monday, “Based on lies and false information, the US has once again imposed sanctions on relevant Chinese officials and entities on the grounds of so-called human rights in Xinjiang. The US has seriously interfered in China’s internal affairs, violated the basic norms of international relations and damaged China-US relations.”

Wang said China’s Xinjiang policies had gained local people’s hearts while Xinjiang’s economic developments were obvious.

“We urge the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision and stop its words and deeds that interfere in China’s internal affairs and hurt China’s interests,” Wang said. “If the US insists on acting recklessly, China will take effective measures to fight back resolutely.”

On Thursday evening, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) identified for sanctioning eight Chinese technology firms, comprising Cloudwalk Technology, Dawning Information Industry, Leon Technology, Megvii Technology, Netposa Technologies, SZ DJI Technology, Xiamen Meiya Pico Information and Yitu, as part of the Chinese military-industrial complex. It said these companies had been involved in the surveillance and tracking of religious and ethnic minorities on mainland China.

At the same time, the US Commerce Department added 34 Chinese firms and entities, including the Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS) and 11 of its research institutes, to its Entity List. It said they used biotechnology to support Chinese military end users, to include purported brain-control weaponry. It added that 20 more Chinese firms supported the People’s Liberation Army and China’s military modernization while their activities were contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests.

Also on Thursday, the US Senate passed the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would ban imports from Xinjiang unless the importer can prove they were not made with forced labor.

A complex that includes what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained on the outskirts of Hotan, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Photo: AFP / Greg Baker

“Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains,” said US Senator Marco Rubio. “For those who have not done that, they’ll no longer be able to continue to make Americans every one of us, frankly unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the CPC.”

Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the US, wrote in a letter to the Washington Post, “China has always opposed the excessive expansion of the US concept of national security and unwarranted suppression of Chinese companies and research institutions.

“The facts and truth about the Xinjiang issue are very clear. The development of biotechnology in China has always been for the wellbeing of mankind.”

Liu said the Biden administration’s export controls on Chinese entities severely violated free trade rules, threatened the safety of global industries and supply chains, hindered the development of human science and technology, and hurt the wellbeing and interests of the people in the world.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Wednesday that some US politicians had repeatedly used Xinjiang problems to spread rumors and cause trouble and tried to contain China’s development.

“This is political manipulation and economic bullying under the banner of human rights. It will only further damage the credibility and image of the US government and Congress in China,” Zhao said. “China’s determination to defend its national security and development interests is unwavering. If the US insists on advancing the relevant bill, China will definitely respond.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is reportedly considering banning the sale of US technology to Chinese chipmaker SMIC and may discuss with allies further restricting the sale of chip-making equipment to China.

Zhao said China expressed its serious concerns of this issue and called on the US to stop political manipulations that will undermine the market economy and fair competition principles.

“The US should work with the international community to maintain an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory international business environment,” said Zhao. “The US should abandon its Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice and stop abusing state power to unreasonably suppress Chinese companies.”

China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp is limited in the miniaturization of the chips it can make. Credit: Handout.

In December last year, the US Commerce Department banned the sale of products or technologies to SMIC, making it impossible for the Shanghai-based company to produce chips at 10 nanometers and below. For comparison, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company began commercial production of 10nm chips in 2016.

Currently, SMIC can produce 14nm chips but TSMC can make 5nm chips, which are several generations more advanced than the mainland counterparts. The US National Security Council, with support from the Defense, State and Energy departments, has recently suggested restricting SMIC from accessing equipment capable of making 14nm chips or smaller.

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