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China still buys US DNA equipment for Xinjiang despite roadblocks


in the police Chinese region of Xinjiang Still buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth American DNA Tools Despite warnings from the US government that the sale of such technologies could be used to enable human rights abuses in the region.

The US government has tried to stop the sale of DNA sequencer, test kits and other products made by US firms to police in Xinjiang over the years, amid concerns raised by scientists and human rights groups that officers could use the devices to build systems to track people. In 2019, the Trump Administration sales banned American goods for most law enforcement agencies in Xinjiang until the companies were licensed. And in 2020, Washington warning Companies selling biometric technology and other products to Xinjiang should be aware of the “reputable, economic and legal risks”.

But Chinese government procurement documents and contracts reviewed by The New York Times show that goods made by two American companies – Thermo Fisher and Promega – continue to flow into the region, which has a million or more residents, Mostly Muslim Uighur, was done imprisoned in detention camps. Sales are taking place through Chinese firms that buy the products and resell them to police in Xinjiang.

It is unclear how the Chinese firms acquired the equipment, and the documents do not show that either US company made direct sales to any Chinese firms. Still, experts say Xinjiang police continue to acquire and use DNA devices made in the US, raising questions about the companies’ due diligence about where their products end up.

Thermo Fisher said in a statement that it has a “multi-stage procurement process” designed to prevent the sale and shipment of human identifiable products to Xinjiang authorities. It uses a network of authorized distributors who have agreed to follow that process, the statement said. Thermo Fisher said the distributor and user are not listed in its system on documents reviewed by the Times.

Promega did not respond to questions about the procedures they have in place for not ending their products with the Xinjiang Police.

In 2019, Thermo Fisher announced that it would stop selling to Xinjiang after making a “fact-specific assessment”. At the time, the company had come under scrutiny following reports that Chinese authorities were collecting DNA samples and other biometric data from millions of Uighurs, many of whom said they had no choice but to comply.

The deals highlight how difficult it is for Washington to control the ways in which American technology It is exploited by authoritarian governments that can use it for repression and surveillance. The issue, which affects a variety of high-tech industries, has become increasingly tense as relations between Washington and Beijing have cooled. human right and other concerns.

It is unclear how the products are being used by Xinjiang police. In the United States, law enforcement uses similar techniques to solve crimes, although some states have shifted. stop those practices.

DNA sequencers can be used to advance COVID-19 and cancer research and to acquit prisoners. But they can also be misused by police for surveillance, human rights activists say. Uighur Gulbahar Htiwazi, who was detained in Xinjiang from 2017 to 2019, said his blood was collected about five to six times during his stay in custody.

Ms. Hativaji said the police had also scanned her face and recorded her voice. In another instance, she said, health workers worked from morning till night to prick the fingers of 250 detainees who had been locked up at a camp in Karamay, a city in northern Xinjiang. No one told them what it was for.

“We had no right to ask,” said Ms Hativaji, 54, who is now living in exile in France. “Whatever they asked us to do, we had to follow them.”

In February 2019, Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher said it would stop selling its products to Xinjiang, a decision that was in line with the company’s “code of ethics”. But 10 Chinese contracts and government procurement documents reviewed by The Times show Thermo Fisher products ending up in the region.

Businesses operating in a large country like China can sometimes struggle to sort out their supply chains, and trying to figure out whether their third-party suppliers are selling to other companies can be difficult. could. Legal experts say companies selling in China need to closely assess potential third-party deals, especially given the risks in Xinjiang.

Senator Marco Rubio, who has often criticized US companies for doing business with police in Xinjiang, said that “no US company should sell surveillance equipment or other technology to security forces anywhere in China, especially Xinjiang.”

In a statement to The Times, Senator Rubio said, “The Biden administration must use all the tools at its disposal, including licensing requirements and export controls, to reduce the complicity of US-based companies with these crimes against humanity.” to be terminated.”

Mr Rubio co-signed a bill in May to tighten export control laws preventing US firms from enabling human rights abuses. Senators Tim Kaine and Ed Markey presided on Thursday the hearing Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Human Rights Violations in Xinjiang.

Government procurement documents and contracts show that several Chinese companies sold Thermo Fisher equipment worth at least $521,165 to eight public security agencies in Xinjiang from May 2019 to June 2021. As recently as Sunday, a Chinese firm based in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, sold $40,563 worth of Thermo Fisher products to police in Xinjiang’s second largest city, Korla.

Xinjiang’s police also signed four agreements with Chinese companies selling DNA equipment from Madison, Wis.-based biotechnology company Promega, with deals all the same way last month. Most deals, which involve products from other companies, do not explain the value of Promega products.

Promega’s general counsel Daniel Ghoka said the company does not do business in Xinjiang and does not have There the customer or distributor. “The company takes seriously its obligation to comply with all applicable US government export controls and sanctions requirements,” Mr Ghoka wrote in an email. “The company has robust procedures and controls in place to ensure compliance with such requirements.”

Yves Moro, a vocal critic of US DNA companies selling Xinjiang and a professor of engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, said he was “absolutely shocked” when he found several contracts on Chinese corporate bidding websites last month. .

“I mean, some professors who don’t speak Chinese sit in the evening on Google and find that stuff,” Professor Moro said. “What is the procedure they have done to avoid this from happening? They should have grabbed it much earlier than me.”

The contracts reveal that all but one of the Chinese firms involved in the transaction are based in Xinjiang, where officials continue to place orders to create new DNA databases.

Sun Dev, an associate law professor at the City University of Hong Kong and a member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, said companies cannot shirk responsibility even if their products are being provided by third-party suppliers. He suggested that one way to be more cautious would be to include a clause in contracts to make it clear that products cannot be sold to police in Xinjiang.

Human rights activists say US law on the issue is out of date, and last time lawmakers tried to block US companies from selling similar products to China. At the time, sanctions restricted US companies from selling fingerprinting devices, weapons, and more. Ammunition to Chinese police in wake of Beijing’s fatality Action on pro-democracy protesters near Tiananmen Square.

Rights groups say those restrictions should be updated to include cutting-edge technologies such as monitoring product, facial recognition machines and DNA tools.

“That law still says US companies cannot sell handcuffs to the Bureau of Public Security,” said Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch. “But it was not envisioned at the time that 30 years in the future, the Chinese Bureau of Public Security does not want US-made handcuffs. It wants US-made DNA sequencers.



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