The Biden administration said Thursday it is imposing new sanctions on several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies and government entities for actions in Xinjiang province, the latest step against Beijing over human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims in the country's western region.
The Commerce Department is targeting China's Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes that focus on using biotechnology to support the Chinese military.
The move will bar American companies from selling components to the entities without a license.
“The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives. Unfortunately, the PRC (People's Republic of China) is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.
"We cannot allow US commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to US national security,” she said.
The Treasury Department is also set to issue penalties against several Chinese entities, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the soon-to-be-announced moves.
The official, explaining the Commerce Department actions, noted that US intelligence has established that Beijing has set up a high tech surveillance system across Xinjiang that uses biometric facial recognition and has collected DNA samples from all residents, ages 12 to 65, in Xinjiang as part of a systematic effort to suppress Uyghurs.
The department, in a rule detailing its decision, said a review by multiple federal agencies had determined that the Chinese academy and research institutes “use biotechnology processes to support Chinese military end uses and end users, to include purported brain-control weaponry”.
The Treasury Department last week also announced a ban on US investment in the Chinese facial recognition company SenseTime over concerns that the technology was being used to oppress Uyghurs.
The White House announced last week it would stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China's “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang”. US athletes will continue to compete but Biden will not send the usual contingent of dignitaries.
The administration also said this week that it supported bipartisan legislation that bans imports into the US from Xinjiang unless companies can demonstrate the goods were not produced by forced labour.
China has denied any abuses and says the steps it has taken are necessary to combat terrorism and a separatist movement.