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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

Scoop: Chinese tech firm sidesteps sanctions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A tweak to U.S. export restrictions is letting a prominent Chinese tech company sidestep measures designed to punish the firm over its alleged involvement in the repression of Muslims within the country, records show.

Why it matters: The artificial intelligence company SenseTime's strategy to bypass those measures shows how companies deemed national security risks — or accused of complicity in human rights abuses — can bypass U.S. restrictions.

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Tesla delays Cybertruck until 2023

Tesla debuts the Cybertruck in Hawthorne, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2019. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla is at risk of falling behind on one of the most critical products in the American auto industry: pickups.

Why it matters: Pickups are the most profitable segment in the business and account for the first, second and third best-selling vehicles in the country. Without a serious pickup strategy, Tesla could miss out on a huge source of future income.

Defense taking steps to mitigate civilian harm after botched airstrikes

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 1, 2021. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a directive Thursday to improve the U.S. military's approach to civilian harm mitigation and response, calling it a "strategic and a moral imperative."

Why it matters: The Pentagon has faced criticism for years for amassing civilian casualties in its missions, especially in the Middle East. New York Times investigations have found systemic failures in efforts to prevent civilian deaths, as well as a cover-up of a 2019 airstrike that killed dozens of women and children in Syria.