Police in China’s Xinjiang region are still buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of American DNA devices despite warnings from the US government that the sale of the technologies could be used to activate the virus. human rights abuses in the region.
The US government has been trying to block the sale of DNA sequencing devices, testing kits and other products made by US companies to police in Xinjiang for years, amid scientists and Human rights groups are concerned that authorities could use these tools to build systems to track people. In 2019, the Trump administration banned the sale of American goods to most law enforcement agencies in Xinjiang unless these companies received permits. And in 2020, Washington warned that companies selling biometric technology and other products to Xinjiang should be aware of “reputational, economic and legal risks”.
But Chinese government procurement documents and contracts reviewed by The New York Times show that goods made by two American companies – Thermo Fisher and Promega – have continued to flow into the region, where a million or more residents, mainly Muslim Uighurs, were detained. Camp t intern accident. The buying and selling takes place through Chinese companies buying products and selling them back to the police in Xinjiang.
It is not clear how the Chinese companies acquired the equipment, and the documents do not show that either US company sold directly to any of the Chinese companies. However, experts say Xinjiang police’s continued purchase and use of US-made DNA equipment raises questions about how cautious the companies are regarding their products.
In a statement, Thermo Fisher said it has a “multi-level purchasing process” designed to prevent the sale and shipment of personally identifiable products to Xinjiang authorities. The statement said it uses a network of authorized distributors who have agreed to follow that process. Thermo Fisher said the distributors and users on documents reviewed by the Times were not listed in their systems.
Promega did not respond to questions about what procedures it has in place to ensure its products are not notified by Xinjiang police.
In 2019, Thermo Fisher announced it would stop selling to Xinjiang after making a “specific assessment of the facts”. At the time, the company came under scrutiny after it was reported that Chinese officials were collecting DNA samples and other biometric data from millions of Uyghurs, many of whom say they have no choice but to comply.
The agreements make it difficult for Washington to control how authoritarian governments can use American technology for repression and surveillance. The issue affecting many high-tech industries has become increasingly strained as relations between Washington and Beijing become increasingly strained over human rights and other concerns.
It is unclear how the products are being used by Xinjiang police. In the United States, law enforcement already uses similar technology to tackle crimes, although some states have moved to restrict such activities.
DNA sequencing could be used to advance Covid-19 and cancer research and to whitewash prisoners. But they can also be abused by the police for surveillance, human rights activists say. Gulbahar Hatiwaji, a Uighur who was detained in Xinjiang from 2017 to 2019, said her blood was collected about five to six times during her detention.
Ms. Hatiwaji said police also scanned her face, irises and recorded her voice. In another example, she said, medical staff worked from morning to night to prick the fingers of 250 people detained in a camp in Karamay, a city in northern Xinjiang. No one told them what it was for.
“We have no right to ask,” said Hatiwaji, 54, who lives in exile in France. “Whatever they ask us to do, we have to obey.”
In February 2019, Thermo Fisher, based in Waltham, Mass., said it would stop selling its products to Xinjiang, a decision it deemed consistent with its “code of ethics” company. But 10 Chinese government contracts and procurement documents reviewed by The Times show Thermo Fisher products continue to be present in the region.
Businesses that operate in a large country like China can sometimes have a hard time untangling their supply chains and trying to figure out if their third-party vendors sell to them. other companies or not. Legal experts say companies selling in China need to closely evaluate potential third-party deals, especially given the risks in Xinjiang.
Senator Marco Rubio, a frequent critic of US companies doing business with police in Xinjiang, said that “no US-based company should sell surveillance equipment or other technology to the police force”. security anywhere in China, especially Xinjiang.”
“The Biden administration must use all tools at its disposal, including licensing requirements and export controls, to end the complicity of US-based companies with these crimes.” against humanity,” Senator Rubio said in a statement to The Times.
Mr. Rubio co-signed a bill in May that would tighten export control laws to prevent American companies from facilitating human rights abuses. On Thursday, Senators Tim Kaine and Ed Markey chaired a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Government procurement documents and contracts show that several Chinese companies sold Thermo Fisher equipment worth at least $521,165 to eight public security agencies in Xinjiang between May 2019 and June. 2021. Recently, a Chinese company based in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, sold $40,563 worth of Thermo Fisher products to police in Korla, the second largest city in Xinjiang.
Police in Xinjiang also signed four agreements with Chinese companies to sell DNA equipment from Promega, a biotech company based in Madison, Wis., with transactions throughout the last month. Most transactions, including products from other companies, do not clarify the value of Promega products.
Daniel Ghoca, Promega’s general counsel, said the company does not do business in Xinjiang and has no customers or distributors there. “The Company takes seriously its obligation to comply with all applicable US government export control and sanctions requirements,” Ghoca wrote in an email. “The company has strong procedures and controls in place to ensure it complies with such requirements.”
Yves Moreau, an outspoken critic of American DNA companies selling to Xinjiang, and a professor of engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, said he was “absolutely stunned” to find it himself. several contracts last month on Chinese corporate bidding websites. .
“I mean, some professor who doesn’t know Chinese sits on Google in the evening and finds that stuff,” Professor Moreau said. “What procedures have they put in place to prevent such things from happening? They should have caught this a lot sooner than me.”
The contracts show that all but one of the Chinese companies involved in the transactions are based in Xinjiang, where authorities continue to place orders to build a new DNA database.
Surya Deva, an associate professor of law at the City University of Hong Kong and a member of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, said companies cannot shirk responsibility even if the product Theirs are provided by third party vendors. One way to be more vigilant, he suggested, is to insert a clause in the contract to make it clear that the products are not sold to police in Xinjiang.
Human rights activists say US law on the issue is outdated and the last time lawmakers tried to stop US companies from selling similar products to China was in 1990. At the time. Sanctions banned American companies from selling fingerprinting devices, weapons and ammunition to Chinese police following Beijing’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters near Tiananmen Square.
Human rights groups say those sanctions should be updated to include advanced technologies such as surveillance products, facial recognition machines and DNA devices.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The law still says that US companies cannot sell handcuffs to public security agencies. “But what it didn’t envision at the time was that 30 years into the future, the Chinese public security agency didn’t want American-made handcuffs. It wants US-made DNA sequences”.