Sen. Blackburn Urges Commerce Department to Blacklist More Chinese Firms Over Xinjiang Repression

By Michael Washburn
Michael Washburn
Michael Washburn
China Reporter
Michael Washburn is a New York-based freelance reporter who covers China-related topics. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”
December 21, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has called on the U.S. Commerce Department to blacklist several Chinese firms that allegedly aid Beijing in its surveillance and repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Blackburn, in a Dec. 15 letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, urged for the addition of firms in China connected to the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Automation to the “entity list.” The list is made up of firms whose practices are incompatible with a pro-democratic, pro-human rights stance, or with the safeguarding of U.S. national security.

According to Blackburn and her fellow signatories, firms tied to the academy are actively assisting Beijing in the development of surveillance technology and equipment that enhance the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ability to persecute its ethnic Muslim minorities in the far west Xinjiang region.

Joining Sen. Blackburn in her appeal to the Commerce Department were Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), Rick Scott (R-Fl.), Tom Tillis (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R.-Miss.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

“The Department of Commerce plays a critical role in preserving U.S. values and promoting national security, especially when protecting the United States from malign interference by the CCP,” the letter states. “The CCP is known to blur the facts of activities within state-controlled research institutions, promote unofficial transfers of intellectual property, and participate in activities that damage the moral framework surrounding human rights and scientific research.”

The letter singles out for particular criticism the severe human rights abuses going on in Xinjiang. The U.S. government, several Western parliaments, and a London-based independent have classified Beijing’s actions as genocide. Blackburn’s letter cites pre-criminal profiling, coerced culling of genetic data, rape and forced sterilization, and mass internment without due process, among other abuses, and notes that the theater of Beijing’s human rights violations is scarcely limited to Xinjiang.

“Elements of the surveillance and control tactics utilized in Xinjiang are also evident in the regions of Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and even against dissidents in major metropolitan cities such as Beijing and Shanghai,” the letter states.

Given the realities of surveillance and its growing use as a tool of political oppression, the signatories urged the Commerce Department to restrict trade with firms in China whose technology and work contribute to Beijing’s surveillance capabilities.

“While the U.S. government has made strides toward restricting business with some PRC [People’s Republic of China] entities, efforts are still inadequate with respect to PRC research institutions and their affiliates in light of their contributions to the mass weaponization of surveillance functions,” the letter states. “Potential partners must be thoroughly vetted to maintain our own national security and to outwardly emphasize that we do not condone the immoral behavior of the CCP.”

Last week, the Biden administration slapped trade and investment restrictions on dozens of Chinese entities over their role in aiding the CCP’s military or furthering rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michael Washburn
China Reporter
Michael Washburn is a New York-based freelance reporter who covers China-related topics. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”