The US blacklists a swath of Chinese AI companies and government bureaus

A security camera outside a mosque in Kashgar. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The US has added 8 Chinese tech companies and twenty government bureaus to its Entity List, which blocks them from doing business with US firms or buying US-made components like microchips.

The companies include giant surveillance and AI firms like Megvii, SenseTime and Hikvision.

The firms and bureaus share something in common: they produce and deploy advanced surveillance technology in China's tense Western provinces, where the Chinese government uses facial recognition and advanced cameras to track and subjugate the region's Muslim minority groups.

From the Department of Commerce's filing:

These entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the [Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region].

The move is reminiscent of the US's blacklisting of Huawei late last year, which temporarily crippled the company and cut its phones off from Google's Android operating system, as well as from US chips and semiconductors. Since then, Huawei has sped up development of its own in-house mobile system and announced advanced chips of its own.

The US's move, some say, was planned to buy US negotiators leverage in upcoming trade war negotiations. According to MIT Technology Review, Chinese firms buy up to 90% of their chips from foreign companies.

The companies are among China's most valuable in surveillance and facial and audio recognition:

  • Megvii Technology
  • Hikvision
  • SenseTime
  • IFLYTEK
  • Dahua Technology
  • Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co. Ltd.
  • Yitu Technologies
  • Yixin Science and Technology Co. Ltd.
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