China's SenseTime postpones Hong Kong IPO after US blacklisting

The US blacklist announcement has cast a shadow over the company's planned listing in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Chinese artificial intelligence start-up SenseTime said Monday (Dec 13) it was postponing a planned US$767 million (S$1.05 billion) initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong after it was blacklisted by the US over human rights concerns in Xinjiang.

The US Treasury announced the ban on Friday, saying SenseTime's facial recognition programmes were designed in part to be used in Xinjiang against Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities. China denies abuses in Xinjiang.

The announcement immediately cast a shadow over the company's upcoming listing in Hong Kong, which had been due to take place a week later.

On Monday, the company filed a statement with the Hong Kong stock exchange saying it would postpone its listing "to safeguard the interests of the potential investors" as they weigh the impact of being placed on the blacklist.

SenseTime said it "remains committed" to listing in Hong Kong soon and would fully refund those who had already invested.

The US sanctions and blacklisting can prevent individuals from obtaining visas to the United States, block assets under US jurisdiction, and prevent the targets from doing business with US individuals or entities - effectively locking them out of the US banking system.

A blacklisting would make it all but impossible for US investment banks usually involved in Hong Kong listings to get involved, or for a US national to invest in the offering.

Washington says SenseTime is part of China's "military-industrial complex". It had already placed the company on the US Department of Commerce's blacklist in 2019 because its technology had been used for mass surveillance in Xinjiang.

SenseTime strongly criticised the latest blacklisting, saying in a statement over the weekend it was "caught in the middle of geopolitical tension".

"We strongly oppose the designation and accusations that have been made in connection with it. The accusations are unfounded and reflect a fundamental misperception of our company," the firm said.

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