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China Still Buys American DNA Equipment for Xinjiang Despite Blocks

The police within the Chinese area of Xinjiang are nonetheless shopping for lots of of hundreds of {dollars}’ value of American DNA gear regardless of warnings from the U.S. authorities that the sale of such applied sciences may very well be used to allow human rights abuses within the area.

The U.S. authorities has tried to forestall the sale of DNA sequencers, take a look at kits and different merchandise made by American corporations to the police in Xinjiang for years, amid issues raised by scientists and human rights teams that the authorities might use the instruments to build techniques to trace folks. In 2019, the Trump administration banned the sale of American items to most legislation enforcement businesses in Xinjiang until the businesses acquired a license. And in 2020, Washington warned that corporations promoting biometric expertise and different merchandise to Xinjiang ought to pay attention to the “reputational, economic and legal risks.”

But Chinese authorities procurement paperwork and contracts reviewed by The New York Times present that items made by two American corporations — Thermo Fisher and Promega — have continued to move to the area, the place 1,000,000 or extra residents, largely Muslim Uyghurs, have been incarcerated in internment camps. The gross sales are occurring by means of Chinese corporations that purchase the merchandise and resell them to the police in Xinjiang.

It just isn’t clear how the Chinese corporations acquired the gear, and the paperwork don’t present that both American company made direct gross sales to any of the Chinese corporations. Still, consultants say the truth that the Xinjiang police proceed to accumulate and use U.S.-made DNA gear raises questions in regards to the corporations’ diligence concerning the place their merchandise find yourself.

In a press release, Thermo Fisher mentioned it has a “multi-level purchasing process” designed to forestall gross sales and shipments of human identification merchandise to the Xinjiang authorities. The assertion mentioned it makes use of a community of licensed distributors who’ve agreed to adjust to that course of. Thermo Fisher mentioned the distributors and the customers on the paperwork reviewed by the Times are usually not listed in its system.

Promega didn’t reply to queries on what procedures they’ve in place to make sure their merchandise don’t find yourself with the Xinjiang police.

In 2019, Thermo Fisher introduced it could cease promoting to Xinjiang after enterprise “fact-specific assessments.” At that point, the company had come underneath scrutiny after reviews that Chinese officers had been accumulating DNA samples and different biometric knowledge from thousands and thousands of Uyghurs, a lot of whom mentioned that they had no selection however to conform.

The offers spotlight how troublesome it’s for Washington to regulate the methods by which American expertise is exploited by authoritarian governments which will use it for repression and surveillance. The difficulty, which impacts quite a lot of high-tech industries, has turn out to be more and more tense as relations between Washington and Beijing have grown frostier over human rights and different issues.

It is unclear how the merchandise are being utilized by the Xinjiang police. In the United States, legislation enforcement has used comparable expertise to resolve crimes, although some states have moved to limit these practices.

DNA sequencers can be utilized to advance Covid-19 and most cancers analysis and to exonerate prisoners. But they can be abused by the police for surveillance, human rights activists say. Gulbahar Hatiwaji, a Uyghur who was detained in Xinjiang from 2017 to 2019, mentioned her blood was collected about 5 to 6 instances whereas she was in detention.

Ms. Hatiwaji mentioned the police had additionally scanned her face and irises and recorded her voice. In one other occasion, she mentioned, well being employees labored from morning till night time to prick the fingers of the 250 detainees who had been locked up in a camp in Karamay, a metropolis in northern Xinjiang. No one instructed them what it was for.

“We had no right to ask,” mentioned Ms. Hatiwaji, 54, who’s now dwelling in exile in France. “Whatever they asked us to do, we had to obey.”

In February 2019, Thermo Fisher, based mostly in Waltham, Mass., mentioned it could cease promoting its merchandise to Xinjiang, a call it mentioned was in step with the company’s “ethics code.” But 10 Chinese contracts and authorities procurement paperwork reviewed by The Times present that Thermo Fisher merchandise proceed to finish up within the area.

Businesses working in a rustic as huge as China can typically battle to untangle their provide chains, and looking for out whether or not their third-party suppliers are promoting to different corporations will be difficult. Legal consultants say corporations promoting in China must carefully assess potential third-party offers, particularly given the dangers in Xinjiang.

Senator Marco Rubio, who has incessantly criticized American corporations for doing business with the police in Xinjiang, mentioned that “no U.S.-based company should be selling surveillance equipment or other technologies to security forces anywhere in China, especially Xinjiang.”

“The Biden administration must use all tools at their disposal, including licensing requirements and export controls, to put an end to the complicity of U.S.-based companies with these crimes against humanity,” Senator Rubio mentioned in a press release to The Times.

Mr. Rubio co-signed a invoice in May to tighten export management legal guidelines stopping American corporations from enabling human rights abuses. On Thursday, Senators Tim Kaine and Ed Markey presided over a hearing earlier than the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The authorities procurement paperwork and contracts present that a number of Chinese corporations bought Thermo Fisher gear value at the least $521,165 to eight public safety businesses in Xinjiang from May 2019 to June 2021. As lately as Sunday, a Chinese agency based mostly in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, bought $40,563 value of Thermo Fisher’s merchandise to the police in Korla, the second-largest metropolis in Xinjiang.

The police in Xinjiang have additionally signed 4 agreements with Chinese corporations promoting DNA gear from Promega, a biotechnology company based mostly in Madison, Wis., with offers all over final month. Most of the offers, which embrace merchandise from different corporations, don’t clarify the worth of the Promega merchandise.

Daniel Ghoca, Promega’s common counsel, mentioned the company doesn’t conduct business in Xinjiang and has no clients or distributors there. “The company takes seriously its obligation to comply with all applicable U.S. government export controls and sanctions requirements,” Mr. Ghoca wrote in an e-mail. “The company has in place robust procedures and controls that ensure its compliance with such requirements.”

Yves Moreau, an outspoken critic of American DNA corporations promoting to Xinjiang, and a professor of engineering on the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, mentioned he was “absolutely stunned” when he discovered a number of of the contracts himself final month on Chinese company bidding web sites.

“I mean, some professor who doesn’t speak Chinese sits on Google in the evening and finds that stuff,” Professor Moreau mentioned. “What is the process that they have put in place to avoid things like that from happening? They should have caught this much earlier than me.”

The contracts present that every one however one of many Chinese corporations concerned within the transactions are based mostly in Xinjiang, the place the authorities proceed to put orders to build new DNA databases.

Surya Deva, an affiliate legislation professor on the City University of Hong Kong, and a member of the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights, mentioned the businesses couldn’t evade duty even when their merchandise had been being offered by third-party suppliers. One method to be extra vigilant, he steered, could be to insert a clause in contracts to make it clear that the merchandise can’t be bought to the police in Xinjiang.

Human rights activists say that U.S. legislation on the problem is old-fashioned, and that the final time lawmakers tried to forestall American corporations from promoting comparable merchandise to China was 1990. At that point, sanctions prohibited American corporations from promoting fingerprinting units, weapons and ammunition to the Chinese police within the wake of Beijing’s lethal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters close to Tiananmen Square.

The rights teams say these sanctions needs to be up to date to incorporate cutting-edge applied sciences corresponding to surveillance merchandise, facial recognition machines and DNA gear.

“What that legislation still says is that U.S. companies can’t sell handcuffs to the public security bureau,” mentioned Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch. “But what it didn’t envision at the time was that 30 years in the future, the Chinese public security bureau doesn’t want U.S.-made handcuffs. It wants U.S.-made DNA sequencers.”

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