UK to promote Chinese firm ‘implicated’ in Uighur rights abuses

The Guardian, 17 February 2020

Below is an article published by The Guardian, Photo AFP via Getty Images.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Sabbagh The UK government is to promote a Chinese surveillance company that has been blacklisted by the US after it was “implicated” in human rights violations of the country’s Uighur Muslim minority.

The Home Office has agreed to allow Hikvision, a surveillance equipment provider active in China’s western Xinjiang province, to attend the Security and Policing trade fair it is hosting in Farnborough in March.

A Conservative backbencher called on government departments to rethink the invitation, which comes a few months after the Trump administration accused Hikvision of helping with “high-technology surveillance against Uighurs”.

Hikvision was one of nine companies due to attend the event that had been accused of threatening human rights, according to an analysis of the 300 companies listed to attend, conducted by the internet research company Top10VPN and shared with the Guardian.

The Tory MP Bob Seely said he hoped the Home Office would reconsider the invitation. “We need to stop having an ethical bypass when it comes to China and hi-tech. If we are going to proclaim UK values and standards, we need at least the appearance of consistency.”

Last week, the Guardian reported that the British government was to host NSO Group at the trade event. The Israeli firm’s hacking technology is alleged to have been used to target journalists, academics and human rights campaigners. NSO has denied the allegations and said its technology is used by its clients to pursue crime and terrorism.

The decision to host Hikvision could cause new tensions between the UK and the US just weeks after Boris Johnson’s government approved a plan to allow Huawei, the controversial Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, to supply 5G equipment to the UK. The US had staunchly lobbied against the deal, which it said was a security risk.

Although the UK sought to address the protest by limiting Huawei’s share of the new market to 35%, the deal has riled the White House, with the vice-president, Mike Pence, suggesting it could delay a US-UK trade agreement.

The Farnborough event is a closed trade show that will take place from 3-5 March. The Home Office has said the event allowed the UK to deepen “our strong security alliances around the world and for our international partners to understand and hear about the work we are doing to keep our country secure”.

The Home Office did not respond directly to the human rights concerns raised, but said the UK operated stringent arms controls. “The government will do all it can to help keep British people and British interests safe in the UK and overseas,” a spokesman added.

The US National Security Council and the US Department of State did not respond to a request for comment.

One Washington trade expert suggested the UK move to include Hikvision – and promote its use to other countries – would further rankle the Trump administration, which fears the company’s technology could be used for surveillance of allies.

The Department of Commerce announced last October that Hikvision was one of 28 entities it had determined to be operating “contrary to foreign policy interests of the US”, and placed it on an “entity list”, which subjects the companies to review of exports, among other restrictions.

A US government filing on the issue said the listed entities had been “implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups” in the Xinjiang region.

Hikvision is valued at about $42bn (£31.7bn), and is one of the world’s largest makers of video surveillance gear. It is estimated to generate about $7bn of its revenue from overseas.

A spokesperson for the company said it strongly opposed the commerce department’s decision and it “respects human rights and takes our responsibility to protect people seriously”.

The company told the Guardian it had been engaged with officials in the US, UK, and EU over the past year to “clarify misunderstandings about the company and address their concerns”.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/feb/17/uk-to-promote-chinese-firm-hikvision-implicated-in-uighur-rights-abuses