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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A Chinese surveillance firm has enlisted the help of a former senior U.S. official at the Treasury Department's sanctions program, just weeks after the company was reported to have ties to the Chinese military, records show.

Why it matters: The company, Hikvision, has disputed its place on a Pentagon blacklist of companies with Chinese military ties. The new hire by its D.C. lobbying firm is just the latest aimed at rolling back U.S. government measures that threaten to deal a body blow to its business.

What's new: The lobbying firm, Mercury Public Affairs, announced last month that it had hired Peter Kucik, a former senior sanctions policy advisor at the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Last week, Mercury added Kucik to its Hikvision account.

  • Kucik's hiring was announced just days after the Wall Street Journal reported on new research on Hikvision's ties to the Chinese military.
  • The company disputed the reporting, saying it had never "conducted research and development work for Chinese military applications," and that any equipment sold to China's army was manufactured for "dual-use" military and commercial purposes.
  • The WSJ report was based on findings by the surveillance technology research service IPVM, which also flagged Kucik's hiring to Axios.
  • Previous reporting has linked Hikvision to the surveillance of Uyghur Muslims in mosques and detention camps in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The company has denied “any inappropriate actions in Xinjiang."

A Hikvision spokesperson declined to comment on Kucik's work for the company. Mercury did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Background: Last summer, the Defense Department added Hikvision to a list of companies it deemed were "owned or controlled" by the Chinese military. The designation didn't carry penalties but was seen as a potential precursor to U.S. sanctions.

  • Last month, President Biden included Hikvision among dozens of companies barred from U.S. investment over alleged Chinese military ties.
  • In 2019, the Commerce Department also restricted Hikvision's ability to do business with American companies.

Between the lines: Kucik is just the latest Mercury addition to its Hikvision team.

  • Late last month it brought on former Rep. Toby Moffett, a Connecticut Democrat who advised President Joe Biden's 2008 White House bid.
  • Earlier this year, Mercury added former California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer to the Hikvision account. She quickly stepped back from that work, citing public criticism.

Go deeper

Biden's muddled China policy

President Biden looks at Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins them in virtual announcement of a trilateral nuclear submarine agreement. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden came into office with a plan for dealing with China that sounded great in theory but's failing in practice.

Why it matters: The idea was to confront China aggressively on a range of issues — from trade abuses to human rights — while working cooperatively on areas of mutual interest, including climate change. A new plan to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines makes that both-ways approach even less realistic.

The Exvangelicals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even as evangelicals maintain their position as the most popular religion in the U.S., a movement of self-described "exvangelicals" is breaking away, using social media to engage tens of thousands of former faithful.

The big picture: Donald Trump's presidency, as well as movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, drew more Americans into evangelical churches while also pushing some existing members away.

Updated 5 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.