The Trump administration warned American businesses on Wednesday against using products from western China made with prison labor.
The advisory from the State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments concerning supply chain risks related to products made employing forced labor by ethnic Uighurs and others imprisoned in China’s western Xinjiang province.
The Chinese government is carrying out a campaign of mass repression in Xinjiang, targeting Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz and members of other Muslim minority groups under the questionable rubric of counterterrorism, according to a State Department report on the issue.
The advisory said there are risks for businesses “with supply chain links to entities complicit in forced labor and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang and throughout China,” including companies involved in surveillance tools used by the Chinese government in Xinjiang; products made with forced labor and other abuses in the region; and companies aiding construction of prison internment camps where more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are imprisoned.
“Businesses with potential exposure in their supply chain to entities that engage in human rights abuses in Xinjiang or to facilities outside Xinjiang that use forced labor from Xinjiang in the manufacture of goods intended for domestic and international distribution should be aware of the reputational, economic, and legal risks of involvement with such entities,” the U.S. government notice said.
National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot voiced concerns about a recently seized shipment of human hair from Xinjiang stopped by customs inspectors in New Jersey.
“If this highly suspicious, 13-ton shipment of human hair indeed turns out to be linked to the Uighur concentration camps, then this is a new low — even for the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Ullyot tweeted.
To avoid being tarnished by doing business with human rights abusers, American companies were urged to conduct due diligence and other procedures. The United States imported $557.9 billion in goods from China in 2018, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Chinese since 2017 have ramped up repression of the Uighurs using forced labor and arbitrary detentions.
“Targeted against ethnic and religious minorities, the People’s Republic of China’s use of forced labor is no longer confined to the Xinjiang region but is increasingly taking place across China through PRC government-facilitated arrangements with private-sector manufacturers,” Mr. Pompeo said.
In the 20-page report, the four departments said the Chinese government is attempting as a matter of policy “to eradicate detainees’ cultural and religious identities, and to indoctrinate them with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideology.”
“Detainees describe extreme overcrowding, sleep and food deprivation, medical neglect, physical and psychological abuse (including what they describe as torture), forced labor, forced ingestion of unidentified drugs, sexual abuse, forced renunciation of religion, denial of prayer and other religious practices (including pressure to consume pork or alcohol), denial of the use of their native languages, and being forced to study and recite CCP propaganda,” the report said.
Some internees have died in the camps or shortly after release as a result of the abuse and neglect.
China is also moving the detainees outside of Xinjiang to other provinces where additional camps have been set up.
The Trump administration on June 5 sanctioned the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science, eight Chinese companies and numerous security agencies implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
In September, Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection unit began seizing garments from China made by prisoners. In October, the State Department slapped visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party officials involved in the mass repression of Uighurs.
The electronic surveillance systems in Xinjiang are being used against the Uighurs. They include artificial intelligence, facial recognition, gait recognition and infrared technology. The surveillance is being used to track movements, monitor behavior and identify people for detention.
The Chinese “strike hard” campaign, ostensibly against terrorism, is being used to repress the Uighurs. Techniques include gathering of biometric data and DNA samples of all Xinjiang residents ages 12 to 65, critics say.
Chinese authorities used a cellphone app in the mass surveillance and chose about 20,000 people for detention in a week, according to the report.
“Chinese surveillance and technology companies earn billions of dollars in contracts from the PRC government, but there is evidence that these businesses also get support from foreign academics, scientists, businesses and investors,” the report said.
Efforts to combat businesses’ use of prison products from China have been highlighted after an account in the new book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton supposedly shows President Trump endorsing the camps.
Mr. Bolton wrote in “The Room Where It Happened” that, in a bid to curry favor with Chinese President Xi Jinping and further a trade deal, Mr. Trump said he supported the camps during a June 2019 meeting in Osaka, Japan.
After Mr. Xi explained why he was building the Uighur camps in Xinjiang, Mr. Trump told him it was the right thing to do.
Mr. Bolton noted wryly after hearing of the exchange that “we could cross repression of the Uighurs off our list of possible reasons to sanction China, at least as long as trade negotiations continued.”
UIGHUR SURVEILLANCE TOOLS
In a related matter, researchers at the mobile device security company Lookout have identified new Chinese-origin surveillance malware that infects Android devices in a bid to gather personal data on ethnic Uighurs and other dissidents.
Four types of malware — code-named SilkBean, DoubleAgent, CarbonSteal and GoldenEagle — have been in use since 2013 and have been linked to what the company called “mobile advanced persistent threat,” or mAPT, from China.
“Lookout researchers have evidence to suggest that while the main target of this activity is indeed the Uighur ethnic minority in China, these tools have also been used to target Uighurs living outside China, Tibetans, and Muslim populations around the world,” said the report, made public Wednesday.
The languages used in the app include Uighur, Arabic, Russian, English, Chinese, Turkish, Pashto, Persian, Malay, Indonesian Uzbek and Urdu-Hindi.
The targeting appears to align with Chinese national security directives and “counterterrorism” efforts that have been used in repression against minority populations in China.
The surge in malware development coincides with the Chinese “strike hard” campaign against Uighurs, along with other regulations promulgated for its security crackdowns.
“Additionally, the languages, countries, and services that were observed targeted by the mAPT are in line with China’s official list of ‘26 Sensitive Countries,’ which according to public reporting, has been used by Chinese authorities as targeting criteria,” the report said.
“During our research, we found evidence of at least 14 of the 26 countries being targeted by the malware campaigns discussed in this report.”
DRONES OVER TAIWAN
China’s People’s Liberation Army is engaged in large-scale use of drone aircraft over Taiwan, raising concerns about some type of future military attack on the island democracy, according to a think tank report.
“Unmanned systems are likely to transform the Taiwan Strait battle space in the coming years,” says the report by the Project 2049 Institute.
Taiwan needs to bolster its defenses by using military systems powered by advanced artificial intelligence technology to deter enemy attacks or defeat aggression, the report states.
The PLA has “fielded a large and increasingly sophisticated force of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) opposite Taiwan,” said the report, “Watching Over the Taiwan Strait.”
The drones could be used for critical military functions in a future conflict, including intelligence collection, electronic warfare to disable weapons systems, deception operations and missile strikes.
The report said drones have become an important element of Taiwan’s defense development programs. The island state has adopted a defense strategy that calls for counterattacks against Chinese using unmanned weapons systems and other asymmetric capabilities to give its smaller forces an edge.
Taipei is working on three types of unmanned aerial vehicles, including small hand-launched aircraft; medium-sized drones for maritime surveillance and missile-firing anti-radiation aircraft for striking Chinese radars; and large, long-range aircraft for surveillance and maritime strikes.
The report urged the Trump administration to supply Taiwan with more and better drones for self-defense and to integrate U.S. drones with Taiwan’s defenses.
“An integrated network of unmanned systems could enhance deterrence and reduce risks of miscalculation,” the report said.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.