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Tariffs aren’t the only weapon in a trade war. Countries are also turning to “blacklists” to restrict the economic activities of certain foreign companies. While such steps are often described as necessary to preserve national security, they’re increasingly being deployed as policy tools to gain leverage in trade negotiations. In the case of the U.S. and China, disputes over human rights or geopolitics also can play a role.

1. Where is this happening?

President Donald Trump has placed dozens of Chinese companies on the U.S. Commerce Department’s “entity list” -- a classification that restricts their ability to purchase U.S. software and components. China’s government has been considering hitting back with a blacklist of its own, targeting foreign companies, organizations and people it calls “unreliable entities.” Export powerhouses Japan and South Korea also have deployed trade restrictions in a renewal of a long feud dating back to Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century.

2. Who is on the U.S. list?

The most prominent among those blacklisted in May, primarily on national security grounds, is Huawei Technologies Co., the telecommunications giant at the forefront of fifth-generation, or 5G, mobile technology. In October, the U.S. added 28 Chinese companies -- including another eight technology giants -- for alleged human rights violations against Uighur Muslims in China’s far west Xinjiang province. Those companies include two of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance products, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., and a pair of artificial-intelligence companies, SenseTime Group Ltd. and Megvii Technology Ltd.

3. How is China responding?

Slowly. In May, it said it was compiling its own list of “unreliable entities,” defined as those having “severely damaged the legitimate interests” of Chinese firms by not obeying market rules, violating contracts or blocking or cutting off supply for noncommercial reasons. None were identified but FedEx Corp. has been under particular scrutiny after China accused it of mis-routing some parcels sent by Huawei. In July, Chinese state media raised the specter of backlash against U.S. companies including General Dynamics Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. in connection with a proposed $2 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan. A month later, China vowed retaliation against U.S. companies participating in a proposed $8 billion U.S. sale of Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. It also has pledged to retaliate against Trump’s sanctions related to human rights violations.

4. When will that happen?

Soon, according to the Communist Party-backed Global Times. In early December it reported that the list was being sped up in response to a bill moving through the U.S. Congress requiring measures against Chinese officials involved in alleged abuses of Uighurs. The bill passed the Senate in September, and the House was set to vote on it in December. However, Chinese officials have said “soon” before.

5. What does it mean to be blacklisted by the U.S.?

Those on the U.S. entity list are prohibited from doing business with American companies without first obtaining a U.S. government license. It was created in 1997 as a way to sanction companies that helped build weapons of mass destruction. It’s since been expanded to cover activities considered “contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.” Targets can be “businesses, research institutions, government and private organizations, individuals, and other types of legal persons,” according to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, which administers the list as part of U.S. Export Administration Regulations.

6. What about by China?

Unclear. “Necessary measures will be taken” against those listed, was all Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said when he announced it May 31. However, the broad definition opens the possibility that a great swath of the global technology industry could be targeted, including U.S. giants such as Google, Qualcomm and Intel, as well as non-American suppliers that have cut off Huawei like Toshiba Corp. and SoftBank Group Corp.’s ARM Holdings. Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said on his Twitter feed that U.S. officials and diplomats might face visa and travel restrictions.

7. What explains the increased use of blacklists?

It’s part of what trade hawks in both governments see as a generational fight for technological and economic supremacy of the 21st century. The Chinese government has leveraged its massive state resources to support industrial policies like “Made in China 2025,” and a 2017 development strategy that aims to make China the world’s primary artificial intelligence innovation center by 2030. The Trump administration, backed by many in Congress, views this as a threat to America’s economic and national security and has actively sought to curb China’s technological ambitions.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Geneva at bbaschuk2@bloomberg.net;Brendan Murray in London at brmurray@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Murray at brmurray@bloomberg.net, Laurence Arnold, Grant Clark

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.