US adds dozens of Chinese firms to trade blacklist

The United States said on Friday it would add 33 Chinese firms and institutions to an economic blacklist for helping Beijing spy on its minority Uighur population or because of ties to weapons of mass destruction and China’s military. The actions follow the same blueprint used by Washington in its attempt to limit the influence of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd for what it says are national security reasons.

The US Commerce Department’s move marked the Trump administration’s latest efforts to crack down on companies whose goods may support Chinese military activities and to punish Beijing for its treatment of Muslim minorities. It came as Communist Party rulers in Beijing on Friday unveiled details of a plan to impose national security laws on Hong Kong.

Seven companies and two institutions were listed for being “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs” and others, the Commerce Department said in a statement. Two dozen other companies, government institutions and commercial organizations were added for supporting procurement of items for use by the Chinese military, the department said in another statement.

The blacklisted companies focus on artificial intelligence and facial recognition, markets that U.S. chip companies such as Nvidia Corp and Intel Corp have been heavily investing in. Among the companies named is NetPosa, one of China’s most famous AI companies, whose facial recognition subsidiary is linked to the surveillance of Muslims. Qihoo360, a major cybersecurity firm taken private and delisted from the Nasdaq in 2015, recently made headlines for claiming it had found evidence that CIA hacking tools were used to target the Chinese aviation sector.

The Commerce Department said it was adding the firms and institutions to its “entity list,” which restricts sales of US goods shipped to them and some more limited items made abroad with US content or technology. Companies can apply for licenses to make the sales, but they must overcome a presumption of denial.

Softbank Group Corp-backed CloudMinds was also added. It operates a cloud-based service to run robots such as a version of Pepper, a humanoid robot capable of simple communication. The company was blocked last year from transferring technology or technical information from its US unit to its offices in Beijing, Reuters reported in March.

Qihoo, NetPosa and CloudMinds could not be immediately reached for comment.

Xilinx Inc, which makes programmable chips, said at least one of its customers was on the list but that it believes the business impact will be negligible.

“Xilinx is aware of the recent additions to the Department of Commerce’s Entity List and is evaluating any potential business impact,” the company said. “We comply with any new US Department of Commerce rules and regulations.”

The new listings follow a similar October 2019 action when Commerce added 28 Chinese public security bureaus and companies - including some of China’s top artificial intelligence startups and video surveillance company Hikvision - to a US trade blacklist over the treatment of Uighur Muslims.

A week ago, US Department of Commerce took action to try to further cut off Huawei’s access to chipmakers.

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