US Lawmakers Urge Export Restrictions to Penalize China for Xinjiang Abuses

September 12, 2018 Updated: October 2, 2018

BEIJING—Two U.S. lawmakers are urging the extension of tougher American export restrictions to prevent sales of equipment that could be used in China’s massive security clampdown targeting the Xinjiang region’s native mostly Uyghur Muslim population.

Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith want foreign entities, including businesses, research institutions, government and private organizations, and individuals seen as profiting from the clampdown to be added to a watch list, the two Republicans, among the staunchest critics of China in the U.S. Congress, said in a letter on Sept. 12 to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“U.S. companies should not be assisting in the expansion of China’s systems for surveillance, detection, and detention, or be complicit in what are gross violations of internationally recognized human rights occurring daily” in Xinjiang, the letter said.

Dozens of Chinese companies are already on the Commerce Department’s “Entity List,” though none with an explicit, direct link to the oppression in Xinjiang. The U.S. has long maintained restrictions on the export of crime control and detection equipment to China.

Entities on the list are under export administration regulations requiring them to obtain a license if they seek to export, re-export, or transfer items.

The letter cites Anthony Christino, director of the Commerce Department Bureau of Industry and Security, Foreign Policy Division, who stated in recent testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China that it was evaluating “whether there is sufficient evidence to justify additional end-user restrictions.”

It said the commission was awaiting an update “as to the status and anticipated timeline of this interagency process,” but said the government should err on the side of caution.

“Given the national integration of China’s state security apparatus, we believe there should also be a presumption of denial for any sale of technology or equipment that would make a direct and significant contribution to the police surveillance and detection system,” the letter said.

No specific entities were named in the letter, which is the latest sign that the detentions are raising concerns among foreign leaders, governments, activist groups, media outlets, and private citizens.

Over recent years, Xinjiang has been transformed into a vast security state, packed with police stations, street cameras, and security checkpoints at which electronic identity cards are scanned. Travel restrictions prevent free movement or even the opportunity to visit friends and relatives in nearby towns.

The measures target members of the Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Muslim minority groups, with the region’s ethnically Chinese residents largely exempted.

In addition, monitoring groups say as many as 1 million Muslims have been sent to a system of internment camps, also known as “re-education centers,” where they are locked up for months without trial and forced to undergo political indoctrination and renounce Islam and traditional culture.

China has denied operating the system of camps, despite extensive documentation from those interned and relatives, and other evidence such as satellite photos and government documents.

The Sept. 12 letter follows one last month from U.S. lawmakers, including Rubio and Smith, addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, calling for measures to address the “ongoing human rights crisis” in Xinjiang.

The letter singled out Xinjiang’s top leader, Chen Quanguo and other officials seen as behind the clampdown, saying they should be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act that allows the U.S. government to place travel and financial restrictions on individuals anywhere in the world—given credible proof of their role in human rights violations or corruption.

That letter also mentioned two companies that could be sanctioned under a separate executive order, Hikvision and Dahua Technology, both of which make video surveillance technology used extensively throughout Xinjiang to track residents and restrict their movements.

Asked on Sept. 11 about the possibility of sanctions, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States has “a lot of tools at our disposal” but mentioned no details.

“It’s the old standard line on sanctions, that we’re not going to preview any sanctions that may or may not happen,” Nauert told reporters.

Also on Sept. 12, Australia’s opposition Labor Party issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned by continuing reports of the mass detention of China’s minority Uyghur population and other violations of human rights,” citing questions brought by members of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva last week.

That followed a statement by the Australian National Imams Council condemning the treatment of Uyghurs as “inhumane and unbearable” and urging action from the Australian government.

Muslim activists in Bangladesh, meanwhile, marched through the capital chanting slogans and carrying signs demanding China “stop religious persecution” of Uyghurs.

By Christopher Bodeen