U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Chinese Biotech, Surveillance Companies Over Abuse of Uyghurs

U.S. government officials announced Thursday they would impose sanctions on several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies, citing their use of technology to further suppress the Uyghur Muslims.

The U.S. Department of Commerce measures will add the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes to its "entity list," barring American companies from selling parts to them without a license.

Officials said the blacklisting is due to the entities' use of its technologies against the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority living in China's Xinjiang province. Governments and human rights groups around the world have accused China of genocide and other crimes against the Uyghurs, including torture, forced labor and forced sterilization.

The department said the military academy and its institutes "use biotechnology processes to support Chinese military end uses and end users, to include purported brain-control weaponry," according to the reviews of several federal agencies.

An anonymous "senior administration official" told the Associated Press that U.S. intelligence confirmed the Chinese government uses a surveillance system, including biometric facial recognition, to surveil Xinjiang residents. They added that the government also has DNA samples for all residents between the ages of 12 and 65.

The anonymous official also said that the U.S. Department of the Treasury will soon penalize another seven "Chinese entities."

Joe Biden, China, meeting
The Biden administration announced on Thursday that it is levying new sanctions against several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies operating out of Xinjiang province, casting another shot at Beijing over human rights abuses against Uyghurs in western China. Above, President Joe Biden listens as he meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on November 15, 2021. Susan Walsh, File/AP Photo

"The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives. Unfortunately, the PRC [People's Republic of China] is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement. "We cannot allow U.S. commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to U.S. national security,"

The Treasury Department last week also announced a ban on U.S. investment in the Chinese facial recognition company SenseTime over concerns that the technology was being used to oppress Uyghurs.

The White House announced last week it would stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China's "egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang." U.S. athletes will continue to compete but Biden will not send the usual contingent of dignitaries.

The administration also said this week that it supported bipartisan legislation that bans imports into the U.S. from Xinjiang unless companies can demonstrate the goods were not produced by forced labor.

China has denied any abuses and says the steps it has taken are necessary to combat terrorism and a separatist movement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

China, Uyghurs
The U.S. imposed sanctions on several Chinese entities it believes have contributed to the human rights violations of the Uyghur Muslims in China. Above, two women decorate a grave in an Uyghur graveyard on the outskirts of Hotan in China's northwest Xinjiang region on May 31, 2019. Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images