In Depth

Why US might blacklist Hikvision

World’s largest surveillance company, worth $39bn, has come under scrutiny for its role in the suppression of the Uighur people

The Trump administration is considering blacklisting Chinese company Hikvision, the world’s largest surveillance technology firm, it has been reported.

Shares in Hikvision tumbled after The New York Times published the claims.

The move would limit the company’s ability to buy American technology, and amounts to an escalation in the rapidly intensifying, increasingly multifaceted conflict between the United States and China.

According to the New York Times and Bloomberg, the potential US block is part of efforts designed to punish companies for their role in the subjugation and mass incarceration of the Uighur population of Xinjiang in northwest China. Hikvision has been awarded contracts for its cameras and facial recognition systems in Xinjiang worth at least $290m.

It also comes on the same day as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which mandates a report and a position at the State Department focused on the Uighurs’ plight.

International concerns

Bloomberg added more detail, naming three surveillance companies - Dahua, Megvii, and Hikvision - as well as two further unnamed organisations, that could be barred from acquiring US components or software.

“The Trump administration is concerned about their role in helping Beijing repress minority Uighurs in China’s west... There’s concern also that Hikvision’s or Dahua’s cameras, which come with facial-recognition capabilities, could be employed in espionage,” it says.

The New York Times has carried out large-scale reporting on the issue, and has said that Hikvision is “central to China’s ambitions to be the top global exporter of surveillance systems”.

Senior US figures have become more wary of China’s intentions and capabilities in recent months. While the strategic challenge posed by an ambitious, booming China has been clear for some time, it is only relatively recently that the political calculations associated with challenging a global superpower on humanitarian issues have changed.

As the Financial Times reported in March: “An unclassified state department document distributed in March by US officials to foreign diplomats included accounts of abuse collected by advocacy groups and media organisations, satellite imagery showing the expansion of detention facilities in the region, and cited five main goals of Chinese policy in Xinjiang.”

These included Beijing’s desire to “block and divide global criticism” to “weaken Muslim/Turkic voices internationally” and the “sinicisation of Islam”, according to the document seen by the Financial Times.

Human rights abuses

It is estimated that at least a million Uighurs are in detention in Xinjiang in what have been compared by Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the US Defense Department, to concentration camps - a comparison that has been made by Turkey too.

Schriver is quoted in Reuters saying the description was appropriate “given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens out of a population of about ten million. So a very significant portion of the population, (given) what’s happening there, what the goals are of the Chinese government and their own public comments make that a very, I think, appropriate description.”

Surveillance tech

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC) suppression of its Uighur population is intimately connected to its mission to become the world’s preeminent expert in and exporter of surveillance technology.

The New York Times reports that Xinjiang has become “an incubator for increasingly intrusive policing systems that could spread across the country and beyond”.

The newspaper says technology built for China’s political system is being used by 18 countries across the world. “With China’s surveillance know-how and equipment now flowing to the world, critics warn that it could help underpin a future of tech-driven authoritarianism,” it says.

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