The U.S. placed 28 Chinese firms on an export blacklist Monday night, citing their role in the repression of China’s Uighur Muslim minority.
The decision came days before Chinese officials were scheduled to arrive in Washington for high-level trade discussions.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Commerce, which announced the blacklist, insisted the decision was unrelated to the upcoming trade talks. However, China will likely perceive the two as being connected, according to Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It’s going to complicate the discussions this week…the timing is going to be awkward for the Chinese,” Goodman told the Wall Street Journal.
The Commerce Department stated that the entities targeted by the blacklist “have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.”
The entities include Megvii Technology Inc., Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and SenseTime Group Ltd., all of which specialize in facial recognition technology and video surveillance.
The export blacklist bars U.S. suppliers from providing technology to any of the targeted firms without a license. While the move by the Commerce Department carries symbolic value, the blacklist is not projected to significantly harm the targeted firms as American companies do not form an integral part of their supply chain.
China-U.S. relations were already put in a sensitive position this week after the manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team tweeted in support of Hong-Kong democracy protesters, prompting the official Chinese basketball association to severe ties with the team.
NBA officials tried to contain the fallout by apologizing for Morey’s intrusion into Chinese politics, but were then accused by U.S. officials of kowtowing to Beijing. Senator Ted Cruz (R., Tex.) said that the NBA was “assisting Chinese communist censorship” and Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) sent a letter to Silver chastising the league for backing down in the face of Chinese censorship.