US imposes sanctions against China over abuse of Uyghurs

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The Biden administration is imposing new sanctions on several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies and government entities for actions in Xinjiang province

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Thursday it is imposing new sanctions on several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies and government entities for actions in Xinjiang province, the latest step against Beijing over human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s western region.

The Commerce Department is targeting China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes that focus on using biotechnology to support the Chinese military.

The move will bar American companies from selling components to the entities without a license.

“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,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “We cannot allow U.S. commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to U.S. national security,”

The Treasury Department is also set to issue penalties against several Chinese entities, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the soon-to-be-announced moves.

The official, explaining the Commerce and Treasury department actions, noted that U.S. intelligence has established that Beijing has set up a high-tech surveillance system across Xinjiang that uses biometric facial recognition and has collected DNA samples from all residents, ages 12 to 65, as part of a systematic effort to suppress Uyghurs.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday, responding to reports the U.S. would be announcing new sanctions, accused the Biden administration of “continuously stepping up unreasonable suppression of Chinese enterprises.

“China will closely follow the development of the situation and resolutely safeguard Chinese enterprises’ legitimate rights and interests,” he added.

The Commerce Department, in a rule detailing its decision, said a review by multiple federal agencies had determined that the Chinese academy and research institutes “use biotechnology processes to support Chinese military end uses and end users, to include purported brain-control weaponry.”

The Treasury Department last week also announced a ban on U.S. investment in the Chinese facial recognition company SenseTime over concerns that the technology was being used to oppress Uyghurs.

The White House announced last week it would stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang.” U.S. athletes will compete, but Biden will not send the usual contingent of dignitaries.

The administration also said this week that it supported bipartisan legislation that bans imports into the U.S. from Xinjiang unless companies can demonstrate the goods were not produced by forced labor.

China has denied any abuses and says the steps it has taken are necessary to combat terrorism and a separatist movement.

AP video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed reporting.