Jul 20, 2020 - World

U.S. blacklists Chinese companies tied to Xinjiang gene bank project

Health workers in Xinjiang

A health worker at Kashgar Railway Station in Xinjiang on June 30. Photo: David Liu/Getty Images

The Commerce Department announced Monday it would add 11 Chinese companies to an export blacklist due to their involvement in human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

Between the lines: Two of the companies are subsidiaries of leading Chinese gene sequencing and biomedical firm BGI, which has contributed to efforts to document the genetic material of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

  • BGI has previously announced it would build a gene bank and a "judicial collaboration" center in Xinjiang.
  • Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI are the two subsidiaries that were added to the Commerce Department's Entity List.
  • Beijing Liuhe's involvement in genetic sequencing in Xinjiang was first reported by Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

BGI has also been supplying millions of coronavirus tests around the world — including in the U.S., where its tests have received FDA approval.

  • Officials fear that widespread coronavirus testing may provide an opportunity for Chinese state-connected companies to compile massive DNA databases for research as well as genetics-based surveillance.
  • BGI has significant and long-standing ties to the Chinese government and runs China's government-owned national gene bank.

The big picture: The other companies added to the export blacklist include Changji Esquel Textile and Nanchang O-Film, which say they have supplied U.S. brands like Apple, Nautica, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic and Calvin Klein, according to the New York Times.

  • Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories was also one of the companies targeted. Last month, U.S. border officers seized a shipment of almost 13 tons of wigs and other human hair products suspected of being made through forced labor in Xinjiang.

What they're saying: "Beijing actively promotes the reprehensible practice of forced labor and abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the statement.

  • "This action will ensure that our goods and technologies are not used in the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations."

Go deeper: Read more about BGI's gene-sequencing efforts in Xinjiang

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