HikVision: U.S. May Blacklist China's Surveillance Giant Over Xinjiang Role
Last year, the South China Morning Post reported that “surveillance spending in the far western [Xinjiang] region – one of the most policed places on earth – ballooned nearly 100% [in 2017] to US$8.8 billion.
“For Chinese companies like Shenzhen-listed Hikvision,” reported SCMP, “the world’s largest supplier of surveillance equipment, Xinjiang’s booming security apparatus is a major windfall. The firm won at least five security-related contracts totaling 1.85 billion yuan in Xinjiang last year, according to government-affiliated industry website Its114 – including a ‘social prevention and control system’ featuring tens of thousands of cameras.”
Now, the New York Times has reported that “the Trump administration is considering limits to a Chinese video surveillance giant’s ability to buy American technology, people familiar with the matter said, the latest attempt to counter Beijing’s global economic ambitions.” If true, this is arguably long overdue
In China’s high-tech surveillance state, everything is connected. The household names that look to export their high-end technology to the rest of the world can be found collaborating on programs that would terrify and horrify those export customers in equal measure. China’s surveillance machine is an interwoven mix of networking equipment manufacturers, video surveillance technology companies, smartphone app developers and glitzy AI ‘unicorns’ that have been part-funded by the West. And nowhere does this come together more neatly and despicably than in Xinjiang.
“The move,” reported the New York Times, “would effectively place the company, Hikvision, on a United States blacklist. It also would mark the first time the Trump administration punished a Chinese company for its role in the surveillance and mass detention of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority.”
Last month, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers publicly urged the U.S. government to do more on Xinjiang, where state repression of the Muslim population includes detention camps and blanket surveillance. And whilst ‘doing more’ should include sanctions against key Chinese officials, the politicians also demanded that U.S. companies stop collaborating with China’s surveillance state machine and that U.S. financial institutions stop funding Chinese technology companies, including AI unicorns, whose systems power Xinjiang. The investment case for those start-ups is the surety of programs like those in Xinjiang.
China has essentially developed an unconstrained and unlimited surveillance laboratory across Xinjiang, a province with a larger population than 22 of the European Union’s 28 member states. As I wrote in October, the technology laboratories that China has developed in Xinjiang are being relentlessly exported under a state-subsidized push towards a dominant position in the security sector. It is China’s export-led national security strategy.
The U.S. has been ratcheting up the rhetoric on Xinjiang in recent weeks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the region as something akin to the 1930s, echoed by a senior U.S. official who talked in a press briefing about ”significant concerns when it comes to the ongoing repression in China, [with] the Communist Party using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps.”
Last month, I reported on Huawei’s links to Xinjiang, which have become somewhat lost in the ongoing debate about its national security risks. But Huawei is a relatively minor player in Xinjiang, compared to others. A HikVision blacklist coming so soon after Huawei’s made headlines around the world will ramp up tensions between Washington and Beijing even further.
As I’ve written before, “only by pressuring exports or prohibiting tech companies who operate in Xinjiang from selling into the U.S., Europe and elsewhere will there be a serious impact on Xinjiang.” Now it seems as though we may be seeing exactly that, and so the world will need to revisit its reliance on. subsidized Chinese surveillance equipment.