Biden administration sanctions Chinese officials for ‘genocide’ against Uighurs days after diplomatic spat in Alaska

US China
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was involved in a heated exchange with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18.

  • The US on Monday announced new sanctions against two Chinese officials for “genocide” in Xinjiang.
  • Human rights groups say China has forced over a million Uighurs and other minorities into camps.
  • The new sanctions came days after Blinken confronted China’s top diplomat about human rights abuses.
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The Treasury Department on Monday unveiled new sanctions against two Chinese officials in response to “serious human rights abuse” against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

The sanctions, which target Wang Junzheng, secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, were rolled out in coordination with Canada and European allies.

“Amid growing international condemnation, the [People’s Republic of China] continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Blinken said that the US reiterates its call for the Chinese government to “bring an end to the repression” of Uighurs, calling on China to release “all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.”

“These actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to working multilaterally to advance respect for human rights and shining a light on those in the [Chinese] government and [Chinese Communist Party] responsible for these atrocities,” Blinken added.

The Chinese government has forced more than a million Uighur Muslims and other minorities into detention camps in the Xinjiang region, according to human rights groups. China has vehemently denied allegations it’s committing genocide in Xinjiang.

The announcement of new sanctions against Chinese officials came just days after Blinken was involved in a testy exchange with China’s top diplomat in Anchorage, Alaska, as US and Chinese officials held the first face-to-face talks under President Joe Biden.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Blinken said the US intended to use the talks to discuss its concerns regarding human rights abuses in Xinjiang, among other issues.

Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, responded by accusing the US of condescending to China. In comments that lasted roughly 15 minutes, Yang said the US government was in no position to lecture other countries on human rights abuses, alluding to racism in the US as he referenced the Black Lives Matter movement.

Blinken then hit back with an impassioned defense of the US, underscoring its willingness to confront its shortcomings “openly, publicly, transparently, not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don’t exist, not trying to sweep them under a rug.”

Biden told reporters he was “proud” of Blinken’s handling of the heated back-and-forth with the Chinese diplomats.

The dynamic between the US and China became increasingly contentious under the Trump administration, particularly as then-President Donald Trump blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on the Chinese government. Top experts have warned that the US and China are entering a new Cold War that could have devastating consequences for the global economy.

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The EU could throw out its landmark trade deal with China over concerns about Beijing’s human rights record

Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping.

  • A leading member of the European Parliament has raised significant concerns about the EU’s landmark investment deal with China over its alleged human rights abuses and fears that it could harm relations with the new Biden administration.
  • The EU-China investment deal aims to liberalize trade between Beijing and Brussels and was struck in the last days of December after last-minute concessions from Chinese premier Xi Jinping.
  • But there is mounting concern in the European Parliament, which still needs to approve the deal, about the deal given China’s human rights record on issues including alleged forced labor camps and a crackdown in Hong Kong which began last year.
  • “To lay such a Christmas present under Xi Jinping’s Christmas tree after the year that we’ve had with China, that is quite a stretch,” said Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s China delegation, in an interview with Insider this week.
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A leading member of the European Parliament has raised significant concerns about the EU’s landmark investment deal with China over its alleged human rights abuses and fears that it could harm relations with the new Biden administration.

The EU-China investment deal aims to liberalize trade between Beijing and Brussels and was struck in the last days of December after last-minute concessions from Chinese premier Xi Jinping.

But there is mounting concern in the European Parliament, which still needs to approve the deal, about it given China’s human rights record, alleged forced labor camps and a crackdown in Hong Kong, which began last year.

“To lay such a Christmas present under Xi Jinping’s Christmas tree after the year that we’ve had with China, that is quite a stretch,” said Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s China delegation, in an interview with Insider this week.

The full text of the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) is still to be published, but there is already mounting criticism about the content of the deal.

Bütikofer said the European Parliament’s demands for the deal to contain a clause binding China to international agreements on modern slavery given were ignored. Instead, the deal only contains a non-binding commitment by China “to make continues and sustained efforts” to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Conventions on forced labour.

“We demanded practical steps and guarantees and the deal is just full of hot air,” Bütikofer said.

Those concerns were echoed in a letter sent by a group of MEPs to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen this week, which was reported by The Diplomat magazine.

The appeal, which dozens of civil rights groups also signed, said the CAI “sends a signal that the European Union will push for closer cooperation” with China “regardless of the scale and severity of human rights abuses carried out by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Those concerns focus particularly on the Xianjing region of in northwest China, where the UN says the government has detained over one million Uighur Muslims, with some of them used for the purposes of forced labor. China rejects the allegations.

Another concern is about the impact the deal could have on transatlantic relations. The deal was agreed just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden is due to be inaugurated, leading critics of the deal to suggest it was wrapped up just before the new administration – which has pledged to take a tough line on China – had time to object.

Biden’s national security adviser has already expressed concern about the trade agreement. It remains to be seen just how much pressure Washington will seek to exert on Brussels over the deal.

“Doing this deal just a few days before President-elect Biden comes into office is very unfortunate,” Bütikofer said.

“It seems as if the European Union saw more need to demonstrate to the United States that we can be strategically autonomous than we see a need to signal to Beijing that we want to cooperate more actively and more coherently with the United States. I think that’s a highly questionable priority,” he said.

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Twitter blocks ‘dehumanizing’ Chinese Embassy tweet claiming Uighur women are no longer ‘baby-making machines’

uighur women london protest
A woman holds a placard during a London protest in support of Uighur people over ongoing human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region on October 08, 2020.

  • On Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in the US posted a tweet claiming that Uighur women were no longer “baby-making machines” because of the eradication of extremism.
  • Twitter removed it on Saturday morning for violating rules against “the dehumanization of a group of people,” according to Ars Technica.
  • The tweet was linked to an article, published by the Chinese Communist Party, that celebrated the decline in birth rates in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwestern China.
  • China has been accused of using inhumane birth control practices on Uighur women. Forced abortions, sterilization, and unwanted IUDs are “widespread and systematic” practices, according to the AP.
  • Sens. Tom Cotton and Rick Scott had condemned the tweet. A number of other politicians criticized it and urged Twitter to take it down.
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On Saturday morning, a tweet posted by the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC was removed by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules against dehumanization.

The tweet, posted on Thursday, drew widespread condemnation for claiming that Uighur women have had their minds “emancipated” and are no longer “baby-making machines.”

“We prohibit the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, race, or ethnicity, among other categories,” a Twitter spokesperson told Ars Technica.

The post read: “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

The tweet linked to an article published by China Daily – the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper.

twitter chinese embassy uighurs
The now-deleted tweet by the Chinese Embassy in the US.

The article claims that a decrease in birthrates in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in 2018 resulted from “the eradication of religious extremism.” It also refers to “family planning policies” being implemented in the region.

The Uighurs are a mostly-Muslim minority group in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwestern China. Estimates suggest that at least one million of them could be interned in so-called ‘re-education camps,’ according to Foreign Policy.

China has been accused of reducing the birth rate of Uighur women by using inhumane practices, such as force-feeding birth control pills. The practice is “widespread and systematic,” according to an AP investigation.

Uighur women are regularly subjected to pregnancy checks, unwanted IUD devices, forced abortions, and sterilization, the news agency also reported.

The article’s implication that Uighur women are now more “confident and independent” was condemned by several high profile figures.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted that it is a reminder that China is “an evil pariah state.”

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida referred to China’s treatment of the Uighurs as “a genocide” and said that “propaganda can’t hide their crimes.” He had urged Twitter to censor the tweet.

Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida’s 6th congressional district called it “genocidal.” Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado’s 4th congressional district called it “sickening.”

 

Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the UK’s Conservative Party, wrote: “How disgusting of the US Chinese Embassy to attempt to justify the progressive eradication of the Uyghur people.”

Other British MPs also expressed their disgust at the tweet.

Azis Isa Elkun, a Uighur Muslim academic, explained to Business Insider: “The Chinese Embassy’s tweet was, of course, trying to deceive the Western world.”

Isa Elkun continued: “The Chinese state is committing genocide on Uighurs. The Western world must act now and keep the promises of ‘never again.’ It must hold China accountable for the Uighur genocide before it’s too late.”

Despite the widespread condemnation, Twitter had originally told Ars Technica that it did not violate its policies against hateful conduct.

Although the Chinese Embassy tweet has since been removed, the article remains on China Daily’s Twitter feed.

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Huawei reportedly worked with 4 additional companies to build surveillance tools that track people by ethnicity, following recent revelations that it tested a ‘Uighur alarm’

Huawei China
  • Huawei has worked with at least four partner companies to develop surveillance technologies that claim to monitor people by ethnicity, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
  • Last week, The Post reported that Huawei in 2018 had tested a “Uighur alarm” — an AI facial recognition tool that claimed to identify members of the largely Muslim minority group and alert Chinese authorities.
  • Huawei told the The Post that the tool was “simply a test,” but according to Saturday’s report, Huawei has developed multiple such tools.
  • The reports add to growing concern over China’s extensive surveillance and oppression of Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as increasing use of racially discriminatory surveillance tools and practices by US law enforcement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Huawei tested an AI-powered facial-recognition technology that could trigger a “Uighur alarm” for Chinese authorities when it identified a person from the persecuted minority group in 2018, The Washington Post reported last week.

At the time, Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss told The Post that the tool was “simply a test and it has not seen real-world application.”

But a new investigation published by The Post on Saturday found that Huawei has worked with dozens of security firms to build surveillance tools – and that products it developed in partnership with four of those companies claimed to be able to identify and monitor people based on their ethnicity.

Documents publicly available on Huawei’s website detailed the capabilities of those ethnicity-tracking tools as well as more than 2,000 product collaborations, according to The Post. The publication also reported that after it contacted Huawei, the company took the website offline temporarily before restoring the site with only 38 products listed.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading, Britain July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” a Huawei spokesperson told Business Insider. “We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communication technology] products based on recognized industry standards.”

“We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community,” the spokesperson continued. “We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within.”

Huawei worked with Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft on products that made a variety of claims about estimating, tracking, and visualizing people’s ethnicities, as well as other Chinese tech companies on tools to suppress citizens’ complaints about wrongdoing by local government officials and analyze “voiceprint” data, according to The Post.

Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft could not be reached for comment.

Human rights groups, media reports, and other independent researchers have extensively documented China’s mass surveillance and detainment of as many as one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minority groups in internment camps, where reports allege they are subjected to torturesexual abuse, and forced labor for little or no pay.

To help it build the surveillance apparatus that enables such widespread detainment, the Chinese government has at times turned to the country’s technology firms.

“This is not one isolated company. This is systematic,” John Honovich, the founder of IPVM, a research group that first discovered the 2018 test, told The Post. He added that “a lot of thought went into making sure this ‘Uighur alarm’ works.”

In October 2019, the US Commerce Department blacklisted 28 Chinese government agencies and tech companies including China’s five “AI champions” – Hikvision, Dahua, SenseTime, Megvii, and iFlytek – on its banned “entity list,” thus preventing US firms from exporting certain technologies to them.

Still, some of those blacklisted companies have managed to continue exporting their technologies to Western countries, and BuzzFeed News reported last year that US tech firms, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, have continued selling those companies’ products to US consumers via online marketplaces.

In the US, law enforcement agencies and even schools have also increased their reliance on facial recognition software and other AI-powered surveillance technologies, despite growing evidence that such tools exhibit racial and gender bias.

But recent pushback from activists, tech ethicists, and employees has pushed some tech companies to temporarily stop selling facial recognition tools to law enforcement, and some US cities have issued moratoriums on their use, highlighting some divides between approaches to policing in the US and China.

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