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Biden administration places top Chinese military institute on export blacklist over its use of surveillance, ‘brain-control’ technology

People gather outside the United Nations in 2019 to protest China's treatment of its Uyghur Muslim population. The U.S. State Department has deemed as “genocide” China’s repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Biden administration said Thursday it is adding China’s top military medical research institute to an export blacklist in response to concerns about Beijing’s use of emerging technologies such as biometrics and “brain-control” weapons in ways that U.S. officials say threaten national security.

The Commerce Department added the Academy of Military Medical Sciences and 11 of its research institutes to the Entity List, which bans the export of American technology to the entity unless the exporter receives a government license. The academy and its research institutes focus on using biotechnology to support the Chinese military, officials said.

Commerce is also adding more than a dozen Chinese firms to the blacklist, citing their help in modernizing the Chinese military and supporting Iran’s weapons program and defense industry.

Also on Thursday, the Treasury Department placed eight Chinese companies on a U.S. investment blacklist, saying that the entities support biometric surveillance and tracking of ethnic and religious minorities in China, particularly Uyghur Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

Biden administration concerned about US investment in Chinese tech companies with military ties

The actions are part of a broader administration effort to stem the misuse of technology by other countries to surveil, and in the case of China, to exercise large-scale social control.

“The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “Unfortunately, [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 U.S. commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to U.S. national security.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy called the Biden administration’s actions “groundless.”

“China always opposes US moves to overstretch the concept of national security and exert unwarranted suppression on Chinese companies and research institutions,” spokesman Liu Pengyu said in a statement to The Post. “The facts and truth on Xinjiang-related issues are very clear. China’s development of biotechnology has always been for the well-being of mankind.”

The administration’s use of export controls against these Chinese entities “severely violates the rules of free trade, gravely threatens the security of global industrial and supply chains, hinders the development of science and technology of human-being, and seriously undermines the well-being and interests of people in all countries including the United States,” he said.

“We urge the United States to immediately stop its erroneous practice. China will take all essential measures to uphold the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese businesses and research institutions.”

The State Department has deemed as “genocide” China’s repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, which includes the use of forced labor and sterilization. The U.S. intelligence community has said that China has established a “high tech surveillance system” across Xinjiang “as part of its apparatus of oppression,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

As a part of that system, authorities not only use biometric facial recognition for mass surveillance, but also have collected DNA samples from all Xinjiang residents ages 12 to 65, the official said.

Under China’s “military civil fusion” strategy, Beijing is seeking to use emerging biotechnologies to support future military applications, including sponsoring research on gene editing, human performance enhancement, brain machine interfaces and biological materials, the official said.

“We’ve had concerns about China’s activity in the biotechnology space for quite a while,” the official said, adding that targeting firms and bolstering the U.S. biotechnology sector will be a “continued area of focus for us.”

Treasury’s action barred U.S. investment in the following companies: Cloudwalk Technology Co.; Dawning Information Industry Co. Ltd.; Leon Technology Co. Ltd.; Megvii Technology Ltd.; Netposa Technologies Ltd.; SZ DJI Technology Co. Ltd.; Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co. Ltd. and Yitu Ltd. All were earlier placed on Commerce’s Entity List.

U.S. bans investment in Chinese surveillance firm SenseTime

Treasury’s designations come in the wake of last week’s blacklisting of SenseTime, China’s largest artificial intelligence firm, which the administration says has developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs.

According to Treasury, by some estimates Xinjiang authorities have arbitrarily detained between 1 million and 1.8 million Turkic and other Muslims, mostly Uyghurs and smaller numbers of ethnic Kazakhs and other groups, in “reeducation” centers.

Treasury’s list now includes more than 60 Chinese companies in which U.S. citizens and entities are prohibited from investing. The Biden administration widened that list this summer to include firms that it said support China’s military and state surveillance, building on a Trump administration effort.

The Entity List includes about 1,700 entities, nearly 40 percent of them Chinese.