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US imposes sanctions against China over abuse of Uighurs

US president Joe Biden
Aamer Madhani, Associated Press

The Biden administration has said it is imposing new sanctions on several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies and government entities for actions in Xinjiang province, in the latest move against Beijing over human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims in the country’s western region.

The Commerce Department is targeting China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes that focus on using biotechnology to support the Chinese military.

The move will bar American companies from selling components to these entities without a licence.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement: “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.

“We cannot allow US commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to US national security.”

The Treasury Department is also set to issue penalties against several Chinese entities, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official, explaining the Commerce Department’s actions, noted that US intelligence had established that Beijing has set up a high-tech surveillance system across Xinjiang that uses biometric facial recognition and has collected DNA samples from all residents aged 12 to 65 in Xinjiang as part of a systematic effort to suppress Uighurs.

The White House announced last week that it would stage a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang”. US athletes will continue to compete, but Mr 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 US from Xinjiang unless companies can demonstrate that the goods were not produced by forced labour.

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

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