The United States is blacklisting a group of Chinese tech companies that develop facial recognition and other artificial intelligence technology that the U.S. says is being used to repress China’s Muslim minority groups.
A move Monday by the U.S. Commerce Department puts the companies on a so-called Entity List for acting contrary to American foreign policy interests.
The blacklist effectively bars U.S. firms from selling technology to the Chinese companies without government approval.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a written statement Monday that the U.S. government “will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China.”
The blacklisted companies include Hikvision and Dahua, both of which are global providers of video surveillance technology.
Hikvision said in a statement Monday that it respects human rights and strongly opposes the Trump administration’s decision. The company said it has spent a year trying to “clarify misunderstandings about the company and address their concerns,” and that this will hurt its U.S. business partners.
Prominent Chinese AI firms such as Sense Time, Megvii and iFlytek are also on the list. Sense Time and Megvii are known for the development of computer vision technology that underpins facial recognition products, while iFlytek is known for its voice recognition and translation services.
The companies are among 28 organizations added to the blacklist Monday. Along with the tech companies, the Commerce Department’s filing targets local government agencies in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
The filing said the listed groups have been implicated in “China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim minority groups.
Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said the U.S. has no right to interfere in Xinjiang’s internal affairs and denied there are human rights issues in the region.
“This kind of behavior seriously violates the basic norms of international relations, interferes in China’s internal affairs, and harms China’s interests,” he said. “The Chinese side strongly deplores and opposes it.”
Megvii said Tuesday there are “no grounds” for including the company in the blacklist. Megvii said it received no revenue from projects in Xinjiang in the six months through June 30.
“We believe our inclusion on the list reflects a misunderstanding of our company,” said a Megvii statement.
The Trump administration earlier this year used the same blacklisting process to punish Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant targeted by the U.S. over national security concerns. Added to the list in June were five Chinese groups working in supercomputing.
Ross said Monday’s action will ensure U.S. technologies “are not used to repress defenseless minority populations.”
China is estimated to have detained up to 1 million Muslims in prison-like detention centers in the region. The detentions come on top of harsh travel restrictions and a massive surveillance network equipped with facial recognition technology. China has denied committing abuses in the centers and has described them as schools aimed at providing employable skills and combating extremism.