US grounds investors in Chinese drone maker DJI over 'Xinjiang human rights abuses'

Alleges it and seven other Middle Kingdom tech outfits aid systematic oppression of Uyghur minority


The US Treasury today banned American investment in eight entities – including prosumer drone maker DJI – that Uncle Sam claims are “part of the Chinese military-industrial complex” and active participants in surveillance and repression of the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province.

“Private firms in China’s defense and surveillance technology sectors are actively cooperating with the government’s efforts to repress members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” stated undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson as in a statement. “Treasury remains committed to ensuring that the US financial system and American investors are not supporting these activities.”

Two days before the conclusion of the previous US president's time in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo detailed China’s “wholesale policies, practices, and abuses … designed systematically to discriminate against and surveil ethnic Uyghurs … restrict their freedom to travel, emigrate, and attend schools, and deny other basic human rights of assembly, speech, and worship.”

“The United States calls upon the People's Republic of China immediately to release all arbitrarily detained persons and abolish its system of internment, detention camps, house arrest and forced labor; and cease coercive population control measures,” Pompeo wrote.

Others have accused China of forced sterilization of Uyghur women, and forced abortions. China brushes off such allegations, claiming its actions are designed to prevent terrorism, though has repeatedly denied requests from the United Nations and human rights groups to visit the region for inspections.

Washington clearly disagrees with Beijing, and has therefore from this week barred any US financial support for the following firms, for the following given reasons:

  • Cloudwalk Technology – a software company accused of developing facial recognition software that can track ethic minority groups.
  • Dawning Information – a provider of big-data systems that have been used for nuclear and hypersonic weapons testing, and provider of a cloud computing center used for surveillance and so-called predictive policing in Xinjiang.
  • Leon Technology – helped to build China’s Integrated Joint Operations Platform, which the USA alleges is a surveillance platform used across China, especially in regions with sizeable ethnic minority populations.
  • Megvii Technology – a software developer of AI systems that can detect the presence of Uyghur people and issue automated alarms to authorities
  • Netposa Technologies Limited – controls a company called SenseNets that combines facial recognition and location tracking. SenseNets once earned a smackdown from Microsoft after falsely claiming it has a partnership with the American software giant.
  • Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co – offers a mobile app that tracks users and transcribes their speech. Chinese authorities have required use of the app in Xinjiang
  • SZ DJI Technology Co – for providing drones to the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, which puts them to work spying on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Xinjiang Public Security Bureau is accused of being responsible for, or complicit in, serious human rights abuses.
  • Yitu Limited – for developing facial recognition technology that looks exclusively for Uyghurs. The tech has been integrated into China’s networks of surveillance cameras. Yutu has also tried to export its tech.

As a result of today's decision by the Treasury, "the purchase or sale by US persons of any publicly traded securities, or any publicly traded securities that are derivative of such securities or are designed to provide investment exposure to such securities, of any person identified" from the list above "is prohibited."

DJI is already deeply distrusted by Uncle Sam. The Army banned use of the Chinese drones after reports emerged the craft routed its data through China, where it could be inspected by the powers that be. The drone maker subsequently promised to add a local mode that prevents drone data flowing over the internet.

DJI along with the other seven named outfits are already on Uncle Sam's Entity List of companies, which means American firms cannot deal with them unless a licence is granted. And licences are typically not granted. Today's action by the US government is increased pressure and curbs on the Chinese businesses.

The Department of Treasury published detailed information, here, on how to identify the eight companies named above.

The businesses were named under Executive Order 13959, an action of the previous White House administration that has been amended and extended by Team Biden.

The intention of the order is to starve Chinese companies of US capital, and by doing so to both protect America’s security and defend human rights. ®

PS: The US Dept of Commerce today added 37 foreign entities to the Entity List for "engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. These additions include 25 PRC entities that contribute to Beijing’s efforts to develop and deploy biotechnology and other technologies for military applications and human rights abuses."

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