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Authoritarian Tech

US could target Chinese firm that powers Uyghur surveillance

The New York Times reports that the United States government may apply export restrictions to Hikvision, a Chinese surveillance tech company involved in China’s crackdown on Uyghurs.

According to The Times, the U.S. may put Hikvision on its “entity list.” This would make it legally difficult for American companies to export their technology to Hikvision, which relies heavily on American-made hardware.

It’s a move that combines the Trump administration’s interest in countering China’s rising economic power with a desire to intervene in China’s persecution of Uyghurs, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said is “reminiscent of the 1930s.”

Last year, Hikvision’s CEO claimed that “we should be OK if we cannot buy anything from the U.S.,” arguing that video surveillance does not need as much high-tech equipment as other industries, as reported by the Financial Times. But when the FT looked into the matter later that year, it found that a U.S. export restriction “could be crippling” for Hikvision, which relies on chips from U.S. companies like Nvidia and Intel.

But the relationship between Hikvision and U.S. companies isn’t only trade-related. Last summer, Foreign Policy reported that major Western investors have eagerly bought stock in Hikvision, attracted by its high profits. JPMorgan Asset Management, for example, praised the firm’s “profit growth” due to “strong demand” in 2017. No mention was made of where demand was coming from.

The impact of this move would go beyond China. The Telegraph has reported that there are over a million Hikvision surveillance cameras in the UK.

Meanwhile, though the U.S. has been having trouble getting other governments to join its anti-Huawei campaign, a major British chip designer has just announced it will stop selling to Huawei. The company, ARM, cites its own reliance on U.S. technology as a reason to participate in Trump’s ban.

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