Trump Silent On Mass Detentions, As China Razes Muslim Communities To Build A Loyal City (#GotBitcoin?)
In this old Silk Road city in western China, a state security campaign involving the detention of vast numbers of people has moved to its next stage: demolishing their neighborhoods and purging their culture. Trump Silent On Mass Detentions, As China Razes Muslim Communities To Build A Loyal City
Authorities take down once-bustling Uighur neighborhoods to create a compliant economic hub.
Two years after authorities began rounding up Urumqi’s mostly Muslim ethnic Uighur residents, many of the anchors of Uighur life and identity are being uprooted. Empty mosques remain, while the shantytown homes that surrounded them have been replaced by glass towers and retail strips like many found across China.
Food stalls that sold fresh nang, the circular flatbread that is to Uighur society what baguettes are to the French, are gone. The young men that once baked the nang have disappeared, as have many of their customers. Uighur-language books are missing from store shelves in a city, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region, that has long been a center of the global Uighur community.
Supplanting the Turkic culture that long defined large parts of Urumqi is a sanitized version catering to Chinese tourists. On a recent morning in the Erdaoqiao neighborhood, the once-bustling heart of Uighur Urumqi, nang ovens were nowhere to be seen—but souvenir shops sold nang-shaped pocket mirrors, nang bottle openers and circular throw pillows with covers printed to look like nang.
The transformation of Urumqi (pronounced u-RUUM-chi) is the leading edge of a campaign by China’s ruling Communist Party to forcibly assimilate the Uighurs. Beijing says the detentions combat terrorism and the demolition, along with billions of dollars of investment in the region, is bringing development.
“Ethnic unity is the lifeline of all ethnic groups in China and the foundation of economic progress in Xinjiang,” the region’s governor, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s annual legislative session last week.
The party’s goal, experts say, is to reinforce its control in Xinjiang by remaking the long recalcitrant region in its own image, and to secure it as a hub for President Xi Jinping’s global development ambitions.
When plans for Urumqi’s urban overhaul were announced in 2017, the party-controlled Xinjiang Daily said the government would offer compensation to residents forced to move, and planned new residential districts “designed with full consideration of the customs and convenience of all ethnic groups.” The Urumqi and Xinjiang governments didn’t respond to requests for comment about the urban overhaul.
China’s Communist Party has waged an aggressive campaign in Xinjiang to counter what it says are violent, extremist tendencies among the region’s 14 million Turkic Muslims, most of them Uighurs.
To realize its “deradicalization” goals, authorities have detained what United Nations experts say have been as many as a million Muslims in a network of internment camps—and subjected the rest to mass digital surveillance. Chinese leaders characterize the camps as vocational training centers, promoting them as an innovation in the global war on terror and disputing the one-million figure.
“We can’t have a culture anymore,” said a Uighur resident of Urumqi who works at a state-owned resources company. He said he stopped visiting his local mosque after officials came to his house to confiscate his Quran. “No one goes any more. It’s too dangerous,” he said.
By squeezing some expressions of Uighur identity and turning others into cultural kitsch, the government is trying to weaken ethnic bonds, said Darren Byler, who studies Uighur migration at the University of Washington.
Since the post-Mao reform period began in the 1980s, Urumqi has seen bombings, protests and other acts of ethnic strife. Riots in 2009 left close to 200 dead and many more injured.
Since then, the party has grown steadily more forceful in trying to snuff off out a long-simmering Uighur separatist movement. Beijing says the separatists are motivated by radical Islam and blames them for the riots and a series of attacks in the years following.
Scholars and human-rights activists say much of the violence has been a response to heavy-handed policing, restrictions on religion and perceptions among Uighurs of being marginalized in what they see as their homeland.
“A lot of people have left,” said an employee at a once-popular live-music bar in one of Urumqi’s Uighur-dominated districts. With barely a dozen customers on a recent Saturday night, he declined to explain where the people had gone. “That’s political. I can’t say,” he said.
Moments later, three men, one equipped with a body camera, entered the bar and wrote down the identification card numbers of the Uighur customers. The employee said the men had been sent by local officials, and that such inspections were routine.
Urumqi served as a garrison town for much of its roughly 250-year history, and its residents are mostly members of China’s Han majority, with Uighurs over the past decade accounting for around 13% of the city’s people.
But in a single year, 2017, Urumqi’s official population fell by 15%—to 2.2 million from 2.6 million the year before, the first drop in more than three decades.
That was the year, in May 2017, that city police began rounding up local Uighurs and taking them to detention camps, residents said. Around the same time, they said, authorities in Urumqi forced Uighur migrants from other parts of Xinjiang to return to their hometowns. The Urumqi government has yet to release a new population breakdown by ethnicity.
As Uighurs were forced out of the city, government money flowed in. Beijing wants Urumqi to serve as a hub for the Belt and Road Initiative, Mr. Xi’s plan to build infrastructure across Eurasia and elsewhere in an updating of Silk Road trade routes. Last year, the city approved a $6 billion airport expansion and broke ground on $4 billion in construction projects in the city’s suburbs, including a Belt and Road industrial park.
Total investment in infrastructure, factories and other fixed assets topped 202 billion yuan ($30 billion) in 2017, up 25% over the previous year, and grew a further 9% in the first 10 months of 2018, according to official data.
The Urumqi government also earmarked 70 billion yuan ($10 billion) last year to demolish and rebuild the city’s shantytowns, which housed large numbers of Uighur migrants from southern Xinjiang. Authorities see young migrant men, the same group that baked the city’s nang, as instigators of violence and ripe targets for radicalization.
One settlement reduced to rubble is Heijiashan, once a low-rise jumble of makeshift houses built around a market and two mosques. Before being flattened over the course of 2017 and 2018, it was a center of Uighur migrant life in the city, said the University of Washington’s Mr. Byler.
“On Fridays, 5,000 to 10,000 people would come for the prayer,” Mr. Byler said.
On a recent visit, the mosques still stood in the shadows of rising apartment towers, but appeared abandoned. While attempting to film them, Journal reporters were detained and taken to a nearby police station.
Summoned by police, a district propaganda official said the government had taken care not to raze the mosques. “That shows the government’s respect for Islam,” said the official, a Mr. Xing.
The city had more than 400 mosques as late as 2015, according to state media. Several have been closed down or repurposed in recent years, while those still in service are surrounded by razor wire and surveillance cameras, with only a trickle of elderly worshipers.
Chinese authorities have lately started to release some detainees and put them under house arrest, according to Gene Bunin, a Russian-American who lived in Urumqi and who helps maintain a database of members of minority groups who have gone missing in Xinjiang. Mr. Bunin said he began receiving reports of the releases from detainees’ friends and relatives in December, following a wave of criticism of the camps in international media and at the U.N.
The Communist Party’s aim isn’t to eradicate Uighurs, according to Adrian Zenz, an expert in Chinese ethnic policy. Instead, he says, the party wants to strip the influence of Islam from Uighur culture to present the semblance of cultural diversity without the substance.
“It was supposed to be automatic. With material progress, the masses should be rescued from the opium of religion,” Mr. Zenz said. “The current regime is trying to lend history a hand.”
Authorities in Xinjiang are also looking to promote tourism, which would bring more investment and help eradicate the poverty they say nurtures radicalism.
North of downtown Urumqi, tourists can pose for pictures under a towering sculpture of a nang and purchase more than 150 varieties of the staple from industrial kitchens at a new 2.2 million square-foot Nang Culture Industry Park.
“Staff wear white, and their squeaky clean image bumps up the ‘attractiveness index’ not a small amount,” a local Communist Party-controlled newspaper said in a story on the park in January.
The tourism effort can also be seen in the transformation of the former Uighur commercial center, Erdaoqiao. The neighborhood was the site of the worst violence during the 2009 riots. In November 2017, when the Journal visited to document the reach of Beijing’s surveillance state, Erdaoqiao hummed with activity and tension.
A year later, it resembled a theme park.
A pair of pedestrian promenades guarded by large security gates have replaced streets previously dense with cars, pedestrians and police outposts. Around a large central bazaar, the sounds of commerce conducted in Uighur have given way to a loudspeaker broadcast offering cheerful greetings in Mandarin and English.
“Hello, dear tourists!” says the recorded voice, inviting visitors to enjoy “the magnificent reappearance of the commercial hub of the Silk Road.”
The German Data Diver Who Exposed China’s Muslim Crackdown
Scholar digging online revealed scope of detentions; ‘I feel very clearly led by God to do this’.
Research by a born-again Christian anthropologist working alone from a cramped desk in this German suburb thrust China and the West into one of their biggest clashes over human rights in decades.
Doggedly hunting down data in obscure corners of the Chinese internet, Adrian Zenz revealed a security buildup in China’s remote Xinjiang region and illuminated the mass detention and policing of Turkic Muslims that followed. His research showed how China spent billions of dollars building internment camps and high-tech surveillance networks in Xinjiang, and recruited police officers to run them.
His most influential work began in February last year, after a Chinese diplomat denied reports about the camps and advised journalists to take Beijing at its word.
Mr. Zenz decided to take up the challenge and prove the diplomat wrong using the Chinese government’s own documents.
“I got really irked by that,” the 44-year-old German scholar said. “I said, ‘OK fine, I’m going to look this up.’ ”
Mr. Zenz uncovered a trail of bidding papers, budget plans and other documents that rights groups, scholars and diplomats say prove the extent of the construction of the camps as part of a Communist Party campaign to forcibly assimilate ethnic Uighurs and other minority groups.
Mr. Zenz’s initial estimate that the camps have held as many as 1 million people has been accepted by the U.S. and some other governments, though rejected by China. He has testified before U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament.
Chinese diplomats stopped denying the existence of the camps in August, and began defending them as vocational training centers necessary to fight terrorism. It was a rare about-face that experts and activists said Mr. Zenz’s work helped bring about.
“He’s managed to get a tremendous amount of traction,” said James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policies at La Trobe University in Australia who has worked with Mr. Zenz. “The ultimate thing is to see the Chinese government change its approach on this.”
Some other researchers have also uncovered critical aspects of the Chinese campaign and illustrated how unconventional approaches can often be effective, and increasingly necessary, in shedding light on events Chinese authorities prefer to cover up.
Shawn Zhang, a Chinese law student in Vancouver, matched satellite images from Google Earth with details in construction bid documents, providing visual evidence to confirm 66 internment sites.
Gene Bunin, a Russian-American who dropped out of a mathematics Ph.D. program in Switzerland, had studied and lived in Xinjiang. Working with activists in Kazakhstan, he has led an effort to collect testimony from relatives of ethnic Kazakhs and Uighurs who have gone missing in China’s campaign.
Mr. Zenz, though he has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, is also an outsider. He isn’t a specialist in Xinjiang and only visited once, more than a decade ago. He funds most of his research himself, using income from a side job coding for a German videostreaming startup.
His rigorous trawling through government sources has been indispensable, Mr. Bunin said, “because that’s the kind of evidence that China has the most trouble refuting.”
China has struggled for decades to eradicate a sporadically violent separatist movement among some of Xinjiang’s 12 million Uighurs. After a spate of terrorist attacks five years ago that Beijing attributed to the influence of radical Islam, President Xi Jinping ordered a new crackdown.
The resulting effort combined policing, surveillance and indoctrination. Chinese authorities initially kept the campaign a secret, but in recent months have portrayed the camps as an innovation in counterterrorism, organizing tightly controlled tours of certain facilities for selected diplomats and journalists.
Chinese authorities have never directly addressed the findings by Mr. Zenz and the others. The Xinjiang government and China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment on the scholar’s work.
Mr. Zenz, who wrote his dissertation on Tibetan education, said he has an affinity for China’s minority groups because they seem more open spiritually. A lapsed Catholic, he said he embraced Christianity after an encounter with a Korean-American Baptist pastor while on a university year abroad at American University in Washington. His faith pushes him forward, said Mr. Zenz, who wrote a book re-examining biblical end-times with his American father-in-law in 2012.
“I feel very clearly led by God to do this. I can put it that way. I’m not afraid to say that,” says Mr. Zenz. “With Xinjiang, things really changed. It became like a mission, or a ministry.”
Much of his research has been done from a house on the corner of Immanuel Kant and Herman Hesse streets in Korntal, outside Stuttgart. Until recently, he taught research methods at the European School of Culture and Theology.
In 2016, Mr. Zenz found caches of job-recruitment advertisements online that added up to a buildup of police forces in Tibetan areas of China. The discovery caught the attention of Mr. Leibold, who asked if he could find similar data related to Xinjiang.
“He was sending me emails at three in the morning saying, ‘Look at this’ and ‘There’s tons of stuff here,’” Mr. Leibold said.
Working with Mr. Leibold and others, Mr. Zenz began publishing research that unveiled a security buildup in Xinjiang.
After he came across the denial of the camps by the Chinese consul-general in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Mr. Zenz threw himself into researching the facilities. In a report published last May by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, he estimated they collectively held anywhere from 100,000 to slightly more than a million people.
The high end of his estimate became widely cited, including by experts on a United Nations panel that criticized the camps in August. It also generated controversy—with some scholars questioning its accuracy—and dismissive statements from China.
To arrive at the estimate, Mr. Zenz extrapolated from a partial tally of detainees attributed in Japanese media reports to a Xinjiang security official. He cross-referenced that with testimony from former detainees and the documents he unearthed indicating the size and number of camps.
“It was like collecting puzzle pieces,” he says.
In March, at a U.N. panel in Geneva, Mr. Zenz provided a higher, upper-range estimate of 1.5 million. He said the number is speculative, based on continued expansion of detention facilities and pervasive accounts from Uighur exiles with relatives in detention.
“The entire middle-age range is being interned and re-educated,” he says. “It’s absolutely massive.”
China’s government is purging websites of the documents Mr. Zenz has relied on, making his work more challenging. And he said he is sometimes overwhelmed by media requests and government invitations.
He also recognizes it is rare for an academic to shape global discourse and feels that burden. “A lot of the work I do is unemotional, working with data,” he said. “But there have been moments that I’ve been moved to tears.”
U.S. To Restrict Visas for Chinese Officials Linked To Abuse of Muslim Minorities
U.S. officials cite mass detentions, pervasive surveillance in the decision.
The U.S. is imposing visa restrictions on Chinese officials linked to the abuse of Muslim minority groups in China’s Xinjiang region, where as many as a million people are detained in camps.
The visa restrictions—which will limit the ability of affected Chinese officials to travel to the U.S.—come a day after the U.S. imposed export restrictions against more than two dozen Chinese firms for having a role in government policies toward minorities.
Both moves come as U.S.-China trade talks are slated to resume Thursday in Washington.
The State Department said the visa restrictions will apply to designated Chinese government and Communist Party officials, along with their families. China has engaged in a crackdown on what it sees as a long-simmering separatist movement led by the region’s Muslim Uighur population.
Western scholars estimate more than one million Turkic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been arbitrarily detained in China’s Xinjiang region over the past few years.
State Department officials didn’t respond to when asked whether the action was linked to the trade talks. The State Department didn’t identify by name any Chinese official affected by the new visa restrictions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday called on China to cease mass detentions and surveillance of minorities in the Xinjiang region, along with other alleged rights abuses.
Mr. Pompeo said afterward on Twitter: “China has forcibly detained over one million Muslims in a brutal, systematic campaign to erase religion and culture in Xinjiang.”
Chinese embassy officials in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Beijing dismissed the export restrictions action Monday by the Commerce Department.
“The accusations by the U.S. side are merely made-up pretexts for its interference,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, told reporters, according to a transcript provided on Tuesday by the Chinese embassy in Washington. Mr. Geng added that China is pursuing “counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang … aimed to eradicate the breeding soil of extremism and terrorism.”
In the Commerce Department action Monday, U.S. officials added 28 Chinese companies and other entities to an export blacklist, citing their role in Beijing’s repression of Muslim minorities in northwest China.
Targets of the Commerce Department action included video-surveillance and facial-recognition giants Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, Megvii Technology Inc. and SenseTime Group Ltd., which the U.S. said “have 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 Muslim minority groups.
“The U.S. Government and Department of Commerce cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross tweeted on Monday. U.S. stocks fell afterward. News of the visa restrictions accelerated Tuesday’s U.S. stock market declines.
The muted response in Beijing suggested China may is looking to narrow the scope of its negotiations with the U.S. to trade matters and put thornier national-security issues on a separate track in a bid to break the deadlock.
“Delaying or cancelling talks would have simply exacerbated an already difficult situation,” said Jake Parker, vice president of the U.S.-China Business Council.
Participating in the trade talks will be China’s top trade envoy, Liu He, along with Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, central bank governor Yi Gang and Vice Agricultural Minister Han Jun, China’s Ministry of Commerce said.
The U.S. team will be led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
U.S. Tech Companies Profit From China’s Vast Surveillance Network Used To Oppress Uighurs (Muslims)
Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and others aided and profited from China’s multibillion-dollar surveillance industry, used in its Muslim crackdown.
Critical pieces of China’s cutting-edge surveillance state share a connection. They came from America.
Some of the biggest names in U.S. technology have provided components, financing and know-how to China’s multibillion-dollar surveillance industry. The country’s authoritarian government uses those tools to track ethnic minorities, political dissidents and others it sees as a threat to its power—including in Xinjiang, where authorities are creating an all-seeing digital monitoring system that feeds into a network of detention camps for the area’s Muslims.
U.S. companies, including Seagate Technology PLC, Western Digital Corp. , Intel Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. , have nurtured, courted and profited from China’s surveillance industry. Several have been involved since the industry’s infancy.
The U.S. connections came under scrutiny in October, when the Trump administration added eight Chinese surveillance companies to an export blacklist, as part of a wider push to keep American technology out of China’s hands. The Chinese companies played a role in human-rights abuses in “China’s campaign of repression” in Xinjiang, the Commerce Department said.
The Communist Party’s data-driven crackdown in Xinjiang, aimed at suppressing Muslim identity in the region, has been condemned by Western governments and United Nations experts. In an era of increased scrutiny of corporate behavior, the U.S. companies could face reputational damage if they are seen as enabling a human-rights crisis described by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as “the stain of the century.” The companies also risk losing significant business if the Trump administration decides to take stronger steps to sanction China’s surveillance industry.
For their part, the companies say that their products can be used in any number of ways, and that convoluted supply chains limit their understanding and control over how their goods are put to use.
Participation in China’s surveillance market offers companies and investors an opportunity to grab a piece of a booming new field and improve their products. China’s video surveillance market reached $10.6 billion in 2018, with the government accounting for about half of those purchases, according to industry analyst IDC.
Of 37 Chinese firms singled out last November by the Beijing-backed China Security and Protection Industry Association for outstanding contributions to the country’s surveillance industry, 17 have publicly disclosed financing, commercial or supply-chain relationships with U.S. technology companies. Several had multiple connections.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise owns 49% of New H3C Technologies Co. Ltd., which provides switches, surveillance network-control systems and cloud computing to Chinese law enforcement. According to company marketing materials, one end customer for its switches is Aksu, a Xinjiang city that conducts broad surveillance of residents in public spaces. Satellite images suggest the city is home to multiple internment camps.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise had sold a controlling stake in the company in 2015 to Beijing-based Tsinghua Holdings, which has government backing, giving H3C better access to China’s restrictive market for government sales.
A spokesman for Hewlett Packard Enterprise said H3C confirmed that multipurpose equipment had been sold to government authorities in Xinjiang, but that the company wasn’t involved in the deployment of this technology there. The company is looking into these sales, he said.
The Aksu government denied the presence of internment camps in the city, calling it rumor and slander. The government said Aksu has an education center for schooling purposes, teaching Mandarin, legal knowledge and career skills to clamp down on terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang.
Surveillance in Xinjiang incorporates a web of facial-recognition cameras, identity card scanners, smartphone readers and other tools used to track Muslims, particularly the region’s 12 million Uighurs. The Xinjiang government said in a written statement that monitoring public spaces for safety “is accepted current international practice.” It said localities decide what products to use based on their needs.
Leaked internal government documents from Xinjiang released on Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Washington-based nonprofit, revealed new details about the operations of the regional surveillance system. One of the documents, a classified intelligence briefing dated June 2017, said the region’s centralized surveillance platform had identified more than 24,000 “suspicious persons” during a one-week period that month, with more than 15,500 later sent to internment camps. Separately, the New York Times reported on 403 pages of internal government documents leaked to the Times detailing the roundups; based on another leak, China researcher Adrian Zenz calculated that as many as 1.8 million people have been detained since early 2017.
None of the American companies involved in China’s surveillance industry appear to have directly done business in Xinjiang since surveillance there began ramping up three years ago. Many U.S. hardware manufacturers sell in China through contractors or middlemen and said they do not know the details of every project that incorporates their products.
In its wider campaign against Chinese tech companies, the Trump administration alleges the Chinese companies abet espionage by China’s government. Under a U.S. order, American companies must get permission to provide U.S. goods and services to Huawei Technologies Co., the networking gear giant that is also a major exporter of Chinese surveillance systems.
U.S. companies have found ways to continue selling products to Huawei since it was put on the entity list in May, including by shipping products to China made outside the U.S. The regulations allow shipments of parts made in other countries as long as U.S.-originated controlled components form less than 25% of the value of the product.
The Commerce Department added camera makers and several prominent Chinese AI surveillance startups to its “entity list” in October, which places restrictions on some U.S. technology exports. Those Chinese companies, too, will only be able to purchase banned U.S.-made technology from suppliers that have acquired special exemptions.
One of the companies is Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd., the world’s largest maker of surveillance cameras. The company has won contracts worth more than 1.8 billion yuan ($256 million) to build surveillance systems in Xinjiang since 2016, including in a detention camp, according to public procurement documents and the company’s website. A Hikvision spokeswoman confirmed the company has done projects in Xinjiang, including one “education and training center.”
Hikvision’s placement on the U.S. blacklist could jeopardize business deals with U.S. tech suppliers worth close to a $1 billion a year, according to a person familiar with the company.
Seagate and Western Digital have traditionally sold hard-disk drives directly to Hikvision to be packaged with the Chinese companies’ surveillance products. Hikvision sells surveillance products for a variety of uses, including monitoring of commercial areas like shopping malls, though police and other Chinese government agencies are the dominant domestic buyers of its more sophisticated systems. Many of the hard disk drives from American companies used in China are produced outside the U.S. and don’t have the more advanced technology restricted by the entity list, according to Bernstein Research.
In September, the Senate voted in favor of a bill that encourages the Commerce Department to impose a more stringent ban on sales of U.S. technology to the authorities in Xinjiang. The House of Representatives is considering a similar bill.
Western Digital and Seagate said they comply with all laws and are closely watching Xinjiang. “We recognize the gravity of the allegations related to surveillance in the Xinjiang Province,” said Western Digital, which added in a written statement it doesn’t sell products directly to the Chinese government.
Hikvision said that it respects human rights and strongly opposed the Commerce Department’s decision. The company noted it had hired a former U.S. diplomat as an adviser on human-rights compliance. It primarily packages Seagate and Western Digital hard disk drives with all of its surveillance systems, not just those used by police, the spokeswoman said.
Hikvision uses programmable chips from San Jose, Calif.-based Xilinx Inc., purchased through resellers. A Xilinx spokeswoman said the company doesn’t control the way customers use or sell its products. Xilinx takes human-rights issues seriously, she said, and complies with all government requirements in the places it does business.
Until it was put on the entity list, Hikvision had bought chips from Nvidia Corp. , based in Santa Clara, Calif., for training its own algorithms and for use in its artificial intelligence cameras and servers. An Nvidia spokesman said the company complies with all U.S. government export rules.
Seagate, based in Cupertino, Calif., has worked with Hikvision going back to 2005, when they worked together to develop what Seagate said was the world’s first hard disk drive designed specifically for surveillance.
Hard disk drives at the time weren’t designed to handle large volumes of video footage running around the clock, so Seagate dispatched a dedicated engineering team to China to tailor-make one, the company said in a post on its website that was taken down in May. Seagate declined to comment.
These hard disk drives sit at the foundation of the surveillance systems used by police departments in China. They offer storage at a low enough price to purchase in the large amounts needed to store and analyze video, and China has no manufacturers of comparable products, says Kevin Cassidy, an independent semiconductor analyst in Oakton, Va.
In October 2018, Seagate sponsored an award ceremony for firms including Hikvision and Huawei at the country’s largest public-safety exhibition in Beijing. Seagate also marketed its surveillance hard-drive products at the expo in a large booth.
Sales to China now account for about 12% of Seagate’s annual global sales of $11.2 billion and about a fifth of Western Digital’s overall annual revenue of $16.6 billion, says Mr. Cassidy.
Chinese company SenseTime Group Ltd., one of the world’s biggest AI startups, with a valuation of more than $7.5 billion, benefited early on from an investment by San Diego, Calif., chip giant Qualcomm. Qualcomm still owns an undisclosed stake in the 5-year-old company.
SenseTime was also added to the entity list in October. The company said in a statement it was disappointed in the decision, adding that it is developing a code of ethics to ensure its products are used responsibly.
Qualcomm didn’t reply to requests for comment.
Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., provided seed money, as well as chips and technical solutions, to China’s NetPosa Technologies Ltd., which serves the police departments of Beijing, Shanghai and around 60 other cities, as well as the Ministry of Public Security. NetPosa is embedded in Xinjiang, providing cloud-based video management systems and surveillance vans to police, according to the company website. NetPosa isn’t on the U.S. entity list.
Intel Capital, the venture arm of the American semiconductor giant, had become NetPosa’s fifth-largest corporate shareholder in 2010. By the time Intel sold its stake in early 2016, two years after the Chinese company went public, NetPosa’s value had grown at least sixfold.
The American chip maker continues to supply NetPosa with advanced chips that the Chinese company uses to power AI video surveillance platforms it markets to police.
NetPosa declined to comment. Intel said that its products are used by customers world-wide for a variety of applications.
For a 238 million yuan ($34 million) project in a Xinjiang county, featuring blanket surveillance, a contractor opted for products made by Seagate and Western Digital, according to an employee on the contractor’s engineering team.
The Western products would help store and process the flood of video footage. The contractor is a local subsidiary of China-based PCI-Suntek Technology Co Ltd., which supplies facial recognition and other surveillance tools. “For the most part it’s Seagate or Western Digital. We don’t buy domestic,” said the employee. PCI-Suntek declined to comment.
Chengdu Xiwu Xinan Co. Ltd., a contractor building a 182 million yuan “safe city” project in Tacheng, in northern Xinjiang, relies exclusively on Seagate and Western Digital drives, according to an employee in the company’s purchasing department. Safe cities is the marketing term Chinese surveillance companies use to describe centralized, citywide surveillance systems for policing and security that rely on facial-recognition and other advanced technologies.
Government bid documents for the project seek about 1,700 hard disk drives for use with more than 3,400 high-definition video cameras and facial-recognition technology, with each able to check in real-time the faces of 24 passersby across a database of half a million faces.
“We chose them because of their quality, and sometimes the brands are requested by the buyer themselves,” he said. Chengdu Xiwu didn’t respond to requests for comment.
China’s Muslim Uighurs Are Stuck In U.S. Immigration Limbo
Hundreds from Chinese region of Xinjiang who are seeking asylum in the U.S. have been waiting years because of a backlog.
Kalbinur Awut came to the U.S. in 2015 from China’s far west for graduate study. Soon after arriving at the University of Rhode Island, she applied for political asylum. A member of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, she had been harassed in China for wearing headscarves and was briefly detained after she applied to study overseas.
When she signed into a website run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services this month to check her status, the same old message greeted her, with her wait time the only update: “Your case has been pending with USCIS for 1,796 days, not including delays,” it said.
China’s treatment of Uighurs exploded into the American consciousness around two years ago with reports that China was rounding up around a million Uighurs in what appeared to be concentration camps in the western region of Xinjiang.
Roughly around the same time, changes in U.S. asylum policies slowed the process for many of those claiming risk in their home countries. As a result, while the Trump administration is targeting China with various Xinjiang-related sanctions, hundreds of Uighurs like Ms. Awut are in U.S. immigration limbo with asylum bids hung up for years.
Applicants say that they are grateful the U.S. lets them work while awaiting a decision, but that their options are limited as prospective employers or landlords can be wary about their legal status. Lawyer charges and fees to renew work permits and temporary legal documents like driver’s licenses are a constant worry. Their quasi-legal status also leaves them at risk of deportation.
USCIS said its backlog for those seeking asylum, which provides a path to permanent residence and citizenship, was about 340,000 as of last September, the latest figures available, which equates to several years worth of cases. A few hundred Uighurs are in that queue, among Syrians fleeing civil war, Rohingya forced out of Myanmar and Hondurans fearing gang violence, according to lawyers.
Lawyers say the holdup is most acute in USCIS’s center in Arlington, Va., near where the majority of Uighurs in the U.S. have settled. Rights groups put the number of Uighurs in the country at less than 8,000.
Many Uighurs whose applications have been held up came to the U.S. to study or for work or holiday, then filed for asylum as Chinese authorities tightened control in Xinjiang and it became clear that having international ties was cause enough to get locked up.
Among those in limbo is Tahir Hamut, a poet and filmmaker who applied in late 2017 and has spoken to The Wall Street Journal about the detention camps and his family’s harrowing escape from China. Shortly after one article was published, Mr. Hamut said, his younger brother disappeared in Xinjiang and two female relatives got called in for police interrogation.
“Since the situation in our homeland is so hard right now, the Uighur people in the United States are facing a huge psychological stress,” he said by telephone from Fairfax, Va., as his 18-year-old daughter Asena translated. Mr. Hamut said he used an appearance two years ago at a religious-freedom event chaired by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to request faster application processing, but hasn’t seen results.
His daughter said the family’s uncertain legal status makes her ineligible to join the U.S. Air Force, despite spending two years in a high-school Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. She is giving up hopes of affording her dream schools, George Mason University or Virginia Tech.
“I’m thinking of changing my plans, going to a community college,” she said.
President Trump last month signed a law aiming to punish top Chinese policy makers and companies associated with repression of Islamic minority groups, including Uighurs. The State Department has targeted Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, China’s top appointee to Xinjiang and a member of the Communisty Party’s 25-member Politburo.
The U.S. has also blocked certain imports from Xinjiang and placed goods on watch that might be produced with forced labor.
Uighurs overseas applaud such actions as long overdue. But unprecedented political recognition has done little to get asylum applicants out of their immigration logjam.
The Trump administration has rarely made exceptions for applicants from any particular country, including Cubans or Venezuelans, whose governments are the target of tough U.S. policies. U.S. congressional efforts to welcome some Hong Kong residents after China enacted a national-security law in the territory would run on a separate track from the asylum process.
Beijing has defended stepped-up policing and what it calls vocational training centers in Xinjiang as necessary to combat extremism. It denounces sanctions by the U.S. as interference in China’s domestic affairs.
Lawyers say Uighurs have traditionally had very little problem winning asylum in the U.S. “Uighur cases have an astonishingly high approval rate,” said Rockville, Md., lawyer Brian Mezger. Nearly 100% of the Uighurs he has represented over more than two decades have obtained asylum.
In a pivotal change to the asylum system, U.S. immigration authorities in early 2018 adopted a type of last-in, first-out system to prioritize interviews with the newest applicants. The idea was to weed out those the administration said had in past years mainly sought ways to work legally in the U.S. and didn’t have a clear claim to asylum.
The effect was to push existing applicants to the back of the line. A 32-year-old Uighur woman in Boston said she and her husband have been waiting for an interview since 2014—and have had a son in the meantime—while an application by her younger sister after the policy changed in 2018 was approved in three months.
USCIS said that its broader efforts to control frivolous and fraudulent asylum claims are paying dividends and that the most recent numbers show its backlog is growing less quickly.
Like other Uighurs interviewed, the woman in Boston said she and her sister didn’t come to the U.S. intending to stay but both grew anxious as friends and family members back in China were increasingly harassed and sometimes detained, making their own returns to China all but impossible. “We do not have a country, and our life is jeopardized if we go back,” she said, fearing problems for her parents in Xinjiang if she speaks out.
Ms. Awut, who lost teaching jobs during the pandemic, is for now living with her son at the home of a friend near San Francisco. She said Chinese police sometimes attempt to question her via the social-messaging platform WeChat but that she has been unable to connect with her mother, brother or sister since 2016.
“I don’t know if they are alive,” she said.
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