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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lens Technology, a longtime supplier of glass for iPhones, uses forced labor from Uighur minorities in its factories, a new report from the Tech Transparency Project found, according to The Washington Post.
A major Apple supplier is using forced labor from thousands of Uighur workers in its factories, a new report from the Tech Transparency Project found.
“Our research shows that Apple’s use of forced labor in its supply chain goes far beyond what the company has acknowledged,” Katie Paul, the director of the Tech Transparency Project, told The Washington Post.
Evidence of Lens Technology’s use of forced labor was available publicly, hidden in plain sight as government propaganda in news media, according to the Tech Transparency Project. Lens has for years supplied Apple with glass for iPhones, and the company also works with Amazon and Tesla, The Post noted.
The group’s report details a variety of Chinese media reports that portray worker transfers as voluntarily relocating, often with a positive spin.
Apple didn’t respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but a representative, Josh Rosenstock, told The Post: “Apple has zero tolerance for forced labor. Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits. These protections apply across the supply chain, regardless of a person’s job or location. Any violation of our policies has immediate consequences, including possible business termination. As always, our focus is on making sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and we will continue doing all we can to protect workers in our supply chain.”
Apple has been repeatedly accused of labor issues in China and has even broken business relationships with major suppliers as a result. As recently as March, a major report found that Apple benefited from forced Uighur labor through its Chinese suppliers.
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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.
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.
“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 torture, sexual 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 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.
Chinese telecom giant Huawei tested artificial intelligence software that could identify the faces of Uighur minorities and alert them to the government, according to a new Washington Post report.
Huawei published a document that detailed its testing of the software, which could set off a “Uighur alarm” when it finds someone apart of the community.
The document was removed from Huawei’s website after the Post reached out, but the company acknowledged that the report exists.
The Post’s report comes as the Chinese Communist Party continues its persecution of Uighur Muslims, who are native to Western China. Officials have detained up to one million Uighurs in detention camps.
Reports have emerged of torture at the centers, where prisoners subjected to rapes, medical experiments, and — for Uighur women — forced sterilization.
Huawei is the world’s largest telecom maker, and its reported involvement in China’s crusade against Uighurs also raises the question of how tech industry power players can aid nations in conducting what activists are condemning as human rights violations.
Chinese telecom giant Huawei tested AI software that could identify Uighur minorities to alert government authorities, according to a report from the Washington Post.
The outlet viewed an internal company document signed by Huawei representatives that revealed it worked with a facial recognition startup called Megvii in 2018 to test an AI-powered camera system that could scan faces and guess a person’s age and other factors. The software reportedly could set off a “Uighur alarm” when it pinpointed someone from the minority group. Uighurs are a largely Muslim group, and have been subjected to extensive persecution by the hands of the Chinese government.
The document was posted on Huawei’s website and was removed after the Post and the research group IPVM requested a comment, according to the report. Huawei and the startup confirmed to the outlet that the document is real.
The camera system was successful in taking real-time photos of people as well as replaying video footage when a face belonging to a member of the Uighur community was identified, according to the Post.
Huawei did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but Huawei spokesman Glenn Schloss told the Post that the document was a test and has not been applied in a real-world setting. He also said Huawei does not provide “custom algorithms or applications.”
Since 2016, China has detained up to 1 million Uighurs – who are native to Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China – in internment camps, centers that the government has called “reeducation camps.” Officials at the camps force the Uighurs to abandon their culture and adopt Chinese customs, like learning the Mandarin language. Reports of torture have surfaced, including one woman who said she witnessed a gang rape and medical experiments on the prisoners while teaching Chinese propaganda in the camps. The government has also been accused of sterilizing Uighur women.
The Chinese government has already been using high-tech surveillance tools to monitor Uighurs, including installing hundreds of thousands of cameras in Xinjiang to identify them and spying on them through their phones.
The Washington Post report raises the question of how technology, specifically AI, can be leveraged by world leaders to carry out political bidding, as well as the role that industry giants play in such agendas.
International human rights activists and nations have condemned China’s actions – the UK said in July that it was considering sanctioning China due to the “gross and egregious” human rights violations that are surfacing in reports, according to the BBC.
Human rights advocates have also called Huawei out for its involvement in efforts to aid China and other nations in its oppression of minority groups. As the outlet notes, Uganda authorities have already employed Huawei technology as part of their mission to monitor protesters and political adversaries.
Megvii, the startup that Huawei reportedly worked with on the system, was also one of a few Chinese companies to be sanctioned by the US Commerce Department in 2019 over its contribution to China’s “campaign of repression” against Uighurs and other minorities, according to the Post.