In-Depth: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced this bill to keep U.S. technology from becoming part of the Chinese state surveillance apparatus. In June 5, 2019, remarks at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “Rule by Fear: 30 Years After Tiananmen Square,” Sen. Cruz said:
“Let's start by addressing an uncomfortable reality here at home: the role of U.S. technology in China's oppression of its people… Human Rights Watch recently released a report where [it] reverse-engineered a Chinese censorship app for smart phones. This app, called the ‘Integrated Joint Operations Platform,' is a primary tool of mass surveillance in Xinjiang. In this report, [Human Rights Watch references] U.S.-based companies that contribute to the censorship apparatus in Xinjiang. This week I plan to introduce legislation, the ‘TIANANMEN Act of 2019,' to restrict China's access to such technology.”
On March 4, 2019, members of Congress led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the Trump administration to take strong measures in response to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang. In their letter, they wrote that “of particular concern are reports of U.S. companies that may be contributing to Beijing’s persecution of Uyghurs through their support or commercial ties to Hikvision and Dahua—two Chinese tech giants that have profited from the surge of security spending in Xinjiang.” Both Hikvision and Dahua are on the list of companies that this bill directs the President to assess for possible sanctions.
Since 2016, Hikvision and Dahua have collectively been awarded $1.2 billion in surveillance project contracts with Xinjiang. Two of Hikvision’s projects were advanced camera systems for detention camps and mosques. In sum, Hikvision’s and Dahua’s contracts illustrate how closely intertwined Chinese tech companies and the Chinese surveillance state are, since these companies provide the technology that allows the government to repress its people.
However, as of now, U.S. companies continue to hold investments in Hikvision. This seems to be because many investors are ignoring Xinjiang’s detention camps owing to the surveillance industry’s profitability in China. Moreover, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CIS) observes, the ties between U.S. companies and the Chinese surveillance state go beyond financial investment in Hikvision. In fact, U.S. firms are “lending expertise, reputational credibility, and technology to Chinese surveillance companies, and the exact details of these collaborations are not often transparent.”
On April 3, 2019, members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urging the Commerce Dept. to expand its “Entity List” to include entities that have provided technology, training, or equipment to Xinjiang officials as part of mass detentions and surveillance systems. In the letter, the lawmakers argued that this is needed to ensure that U.S. companies aren’t assisting in the policing systems used in Xinjiang.
In May 2019, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering imposing limits on Hikvision’s ability to buy American technology. Around the same time, Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources, reported that the U.S. was considering cutting off American technology sales to as many as five Chinese companies over concerns about their roles in helping Beijing repress the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. However, as of early October 2019, a final decision on those limits has yet to be made.
This legislation has one cosponsor, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Of Note: The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China is home to several ethnic minority groups. The largest amongst these groups is the Muslim Uyghurs (alternatively Uighurs). In recent years, tensions have been high in Xinjiang because the Chinese government blames Islamist militants and separatists for conflicts in the region. Meanwhile, human rights groups claim that the Chinese government’s repression of religious freedom and enforcement of unfair ethnic policies are to blame for the region’s unrest.
As part of its campaign against what it considers to be the rising threat of terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang, the Chinese government passed a law banning a wide range of activities deemed “manifestations” of extremism in March 2017. This campaign has been made possible by mass surveillance and security through advanced technology.
To wit, security and surveillance spending in Xinjiang nearly doubled in 2017, and the region’s security costs have increased 10 times over the past decade, outpacing the growth rate in the rest of China. In a November 5, 2018 report, the Jamestown Foundation reported that security-related construction spending in Xinjiang rose nearly 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) in 2017 — a 213% increase. The Jamestown Foundation report’s author, Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist at the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany, said:
“Xinjiang’s budget figures do not reflect increased spending on vocational education…as the region ramped up camp construction; nor do they reflect an increase in criminal cases handled by courts and prosecutors. Rather, they reflect patterns of spending consistent with the construction and operation of highly secure political re-education camps designed to imprison hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs with minimal due process.”
When New York Times journalists visited Kashgar, they documented surveillance cameras and security checkpoints at every corner, including inside mosques. They also noted that Chinese authorities confiscated cell phones to ensure that people had downloaded a compulsory software to monitor calls and text messages.
In March 2019, an independent researcher claimed that up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslims have been held in “reeeducation” centers in Xinjiang. The researcher called the detentions an “attempt to eradicate independent and free expressions of the distinct ethnic and religious identities in Xinjiang.”
While it initially denied the camps’ existence, the Chinese government eventually began referring to them as “vocational education and training programs” in October 2018. In March 2019, it officially named them “vocational training centers.” Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang government, dismissed reports that the centers are concentration camps or reeducation camps, claiming that they’re like boarding schools where students live and eat for free.
However, U.N. officials, human rights organizations, and independent journalists report that Chinese authorities have extralegally sent people to detention facilities. There, they say, they’re subject to forced communist indoctrination, renunciation of their faith, mistreatment, and even torture. In a video from Chinese state television showing a class of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang facilities, journalists and human rights activists pointed out surveillance cameras and microphones as evidence that the technology used to monitor people in cities is also present in the reeducation centers.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / 400tmax)