China still buying American DNA equipment for Xinjiang despite blocks

The US government has tried to prevent the sale to the police in Xinjiang for years. PHOTO: NYTIMES

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - The police in the Chinese region of Xinjiang are still buying hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of American DNA equipment despite warnings from the United States government that the sale of such technologies could be used to enable human rights abuses in the region.

The US government has tried to prevent the sale of DNA sequencers, test kits and other products made by American firms to the police in Xinjiang for years, amid concerns raised by scientists and human rights groups that the authorities could use the tools to build systems to track people.

In 2019, the Trump administration banned the sale of American goods to most law enforcement agencies in Xinjiang unless the companies received a license. And last year, Washington warned that companies selling biometric technology and other products to Xinjiang should be aware of the "reputational, economic and legal risks".

But Chinese government procurement documents and contracts reviewed by The New York Times show that goods made by two American companies - Thermo Fisher and Promega - have continued to flow to the region, where residents, mostly Muslim Uighurs, have been incarcerated in internment camps.

China has denied such allegations, saying they are vocational training centres.

The sales are taking place through Chinese firms that buy the products and resell them to Xinjiang police.

It is not clear how the Chinese firms acquired the equipment, and the documents do not show that either American company made direct sales to any of the Chinese firms. Still, experts say the fact that the Xinjiang police continue to acquire and use US-made DNA equipment raises questions about the companies' diligence regarding where their products end up.

In a statement, Thermo Fisher said it has a "multi-level purchasing process" designed to prevent sales and shipments of human identification products to Xinjiang authorities. The statement said it uses a network of authorized distributors who have agreed to comply with that process.

Thermo Fisher said the distributors and the users on the documents reviewed by the Times are not listed in its system. Promega did not respond to queries on what procedures they have in place to ensure their products do not end up with the Xinjiang police.

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