Chinese AI firms blacklisted in retaliation against the persecution of Muslim minorities
The US government extended its blacklist of businesses to include some of China’s largest artificial intelligence (AI) companies, punishing Beijing for abusing Muslim minorities, and heightening tensions in the run-up to high-level trade talks in Washington this week.
Twenty Chinese public security offices and eight firms, including Chinese AI firm and video surveillance company Hikvision, as well as pioneers in facial recognition technology, SenseTime Group Ltd and Megvii Technology Ltd, have been targeted by the move, almost certain to draw a sharp response from Beijing.
US officials said the decision about the Chinese AI firms was not related to the resumption of trade talks with China this week, but it shows no let-up in US President Donald Trump’s tough stance as the world’s two largest economies seek to end their 15-month trade war.
The law forbids businesses from purchasing products from US manufacturers without US government approval–a potentially crippling move. This follows the same blueprint used by Washington in its attempt to limit the reach of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd on the grounds of national security.
US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, siad, “The US Government and Department of Commerce cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China.”
The US Commerce Department said in a filing the “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.”
Hikvision, with a market value of about $42 billion, considers itself the world’s largest producer of video surveillance equipment.
SenseTime, estimated at about $4.5 billion in May 2018, is one of the world’s most valuable AI unicorns, while Megvii, backed by e-commerce company Alibaba, is valued at about $4 billion and is planning an IPO to raise at least $500 million in Hong Kong.
The other companies on the list are speech recognition company iFlytek Co, surveillance equipment manufacturer Zhejiang Dahua Technology, digital data forensics software manufacturer Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co and Yixin Science and Technology Co.
Huawei’s blacklisting has affected many of its US suppliers who relied on the world’s largest telecommunications company for sales and made it difficult for Huawei to sell new products.
In April, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers urged the move against Chinese firms it called “complicit in human rights abuses” and specifically cited Hikvision and Dahua.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week at the Vatican that “when the state rules absolutely, it demands its citizens worship government, not God. That’s why China has put more than one million Uighur Muslims … in internment camps and is why it throws Christian pastors in jail.”