In its latest rebuke against China, the United States said on Friday that it will add nearly three dozen Chinese companies and institutions to a trade blacklist over their alleged involvement in human rights abuses or their ties to the country’s military.

Why it matters: The move comes as lawmakers and political advisors meet in Beijing for the Two Sessions, one of the most important annual events on China’s political calendar.

  • Being added to the trade ban effectively bars the companies from buying products and technology from American firms without approval from the government.

Details: The US Department of Commerce added nine companies and institutions to the trade ban for their alleged complicity in human rights abuses in China’s northwestern Uighur Autonomous Region. Of these, seven companies have were added to the so-called “Entity List” for “enabling China’s high-technology surveillance” program.

  • These seven companies include facial recognition firms Cloudwalk Technology and Sensenets, surveillance company Netposa, and AI chipmaker Intellifusion, according to a commerce department statement.
  • Meanwhile, the US has also blacklisted 24 companies and institutions for their alleged ties to China’s military, the commerce department said in a separate announcement. These include high-profile cybersecurity firm Qihoo 360 and Softbank-backed robotics firm Cloudminds.
  • Qihoo responded in a strongly worded statement, saying that the company “firmly opposes” the accusations.
  • Several universities and research institutions were also been included on the Entity List for being involved in or posing a significant risk for becoming involved in activities that could affect US national security, including the Harbin Institute of Technology and Beijing Computational Science Research Center.
  • The blacklisting aims to prevent China from using US commodities and technologies in activities that undermine the country’s interests, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in the statement.

Context: The move marks Washington’s latest offensive against Chinese tech companies in an ongoing spat between China and the US.

  • In October, the US placed several Chinese artificial intelligence and surveillance companies on the blacklist, including AI firm Sensetime, facial recognition company Megvii, and surveillance camera maker Hikvision, among others.
  • The US has also sought to limit Huawei’s involvement in its 5G rollout, citing national security concerns.

Chris Udemans

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based technology reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com.