The United States Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has announced on 16 December that it is adding several Chinese institutions and firms to its “entity list” for alleged “violation of US foreign policy or national security interests.” It has placed trade and investment restrictions on these entities over their role in weaponizing biotechnology that bolsters the Chinese military and further its human rights abuses.
Among the 34 Chinese entities targeted was the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, China’s top medical research institute run by the Chinese military alongside its 11 research institutes, for aiding the Chinese military with biotechnology, including “purported brain-control weaponry,” the Department stated in its statement.
According to the US media reports, the Institute of Radiation published a Chinese paper in 2012 discussing how to establish a data bank on the behavioural effects of “mind control assault weapons.” In 2018, the Academy of Military Medical Sciences applied for a patent for technology for collecting and processing brain signals, according to an online patent repository.
Trade restrictions were also imposed on HMN Technologies, formerly a company under Chinese telecom provider Huawei as Huawei Marine, as well as Jiangsu Hengtong OpticElectric, Shanghai Aoshi Control Technology Company and Zhongtian Technology Submarine Cable, for their role in acquiring US items to modernize the Chinese military.
“The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives. Unfortunately, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said.
“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 trade restrictions followed a US investment sanction last week on Chinese artificial intelligence firm SenseTime after it was discovered that its subsidiary had developed a facial recognition program targeting ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where Beijing is conducting an expansive campaign of repression.
The Treasury Department later on banned US investment in eight Chinese tech firms accused of supporting Beijing in the biometric surveillance and tracking of Uighur Muslims and other religious minorities in China.
The Treasury Department stated, that Guangzhou-based software developer Cloudwalk Technology has designed facial recognition software to track ethnic minority groups such as Tibetans and Uighurs, and alert authorities of any large gathering in a particular location. The company has also made an agreement with the Zimbabwean government to build a mass surveillance network in the country, which would source images from the network to improve the software’s recognition of skin pigmentation.
Digital data forensics firm Meiya Pico based in China’s coastal province of Fujian, has developed a mobile application to extract images, location data, audio, and messages from residents’ cellphones, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). The company also helped create a tool to transcribe and translate the Uighur language, enabling Xinjiang authorities to screen locals’ devices for prohibited content.
In 2018, officials ordered Xinjiang residents to install Meiya’s surveillance software on their computers to monitor their activities, the Treasury Department stated. The ASPI report also found Meiya Pico to have provided training to Interpol and to have sold mobile hacking gear to the Russian military.
All eight companies are already on the Commerce Department’s entity list. Most of the 37 entities under the Commerce Department’s Dec. 16 ban are based in China. A network of entities from China, as well as Georgia, Malaysia, and Turkey were also added to the trade blacklist for “diverting or attempting to divert US items to Iran’s military programs,” according to the Commerce Department.