BEIJING -- Why would the United States blacklist a Chinese police station? What do law enforcement figures in the province of Xinjiang have to do with trade?
Such questions rippled across Chinese social media this week as the U.S. Commerce Department added 28 Chinese companies and public security bureaus to a list of entities barred from making purchases from U.S. companies without special approval.
The list includes eight high-tech companies that provide China's top artificial intelligence and surveillance services, such as Hikvision, SenseTime and iFLYTEK, along with the public security bureau and 19 related government agencies in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The move comes as the U.S. and China prepare for another round of trade negotiations this week and as the rift between China and the NBA continues to widen.
The steps mark the first serious action the U.S. has taken to penalize Chinese entities for human rights violations they say include mass incarceration and high-technology surveillance of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
On Tuesday, the State Department said it would also stop issuing visas to Chinese government and Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for or complicit in the detentions and surveillance of Muslims in Xinjiang.
Both measures are unprecedented steps lauded by human rights advocates as the first concrete actions taken by any country since the plight of at least a million forcibly detained Muslims, according to the United Nations, became public knowledge two years ago.
But in China, where state media has framed the government's actions in Xinjiang as benevolent and necessary counterterrorism and development projects, officials rejected the U.S. actions as "made up pretexts" for interference.
"The U.S. criticism is nothing more than fact-distorting gibberish, which only further reveals the country's malicious intention to impede the counterterrorism efforts in Xinjiang and stability and development of China," said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang at a news briefing Tuesday.
State propaganda seems to have so successfully obfuscated China's policies toward Muslim minorities that some Chinese social media users expressed bewilderment over why the United States was even targeting Xinjiang's security forces.
"The whole thing seems so weird to me," wrote a user named "I'd Like to be Rich 666" on the state-censored social media platform Weibo. "Can someone tell me what Xinjiang's public security bureau has done internationally to attract the attention of the Department of Commerce?"