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US hits Chinese, North Korean firms with fresh sanctions, visa bans

Canada and the United Kingdom join the US in imposing sanctions related to rights abuses in Myanmar, while Washington also imposed first new sanctions on North Korea under the Biden administration.

the US Treasury Department said the sanctions will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression. (Andrew Kelly / Reuters)

The United States has unveiled a raft of new sanctions and visa bans on senior officials and entities in eight countries, including a Chinese firm specialising in facial recognition technology and a giant cartoon studio in North Korea.

Supported in part by Britain and Canada, Friday’s sanctions took aim at officials accused of abetting the crackdown on anti-coup protestors in Myanmar, the oppression of Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and political violence in Bangladesh under the guise of a war on drugs.

“Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression,” the US Treasury Department said.

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“The mass detention of Uighurs is part of an effort by (Chinese) authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to create a police state in the Xinjiang region,” the Treasury added while stressing the reasons for sanctions towards China.

The US State Department announced the blacklisting of 12 officials from China, Uganda, Belarus, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Mexico “for their involvement in gross violations of human rights.”

A parallel State Department action makes 12 current and former officials from six countries – Uganda, China, Belarus, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Mexico – ineligible along with their immediate family to enter the US under a law that authorises banning people implicated in a “gross violation of human rights or significant corruption.”

Allegations against SenseTime

It accused China’s artificial intelligence company SenseTime, and two ethnic Uighur political leaders in Xinjiang, Shohrat Zakir and Erken Tuniyaz, of taking part in the sweeping oppression of Uighurs.

SenseTime strongly criticised the decision, saying in a statement 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.

The Treasury said SenseTime’s facial recognition programs were designed in part to be used in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region against Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities, more than one million of whom have been incarcerated in prison camps, human rights organisations say.

The move put new pressure on SenseTime, which was preparing to list its shares in the coming week on Hong Kong’s stock market in an initial public offering.

The company, which Washington says is part of China’s “military-industrial complex,” had already been placed on the US Department of Commerce’s blacklist in 2019 because its technology had been used for mass surveillance in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

North Korea, Myanmar officials among those targeted

The Treasury also accused Pyongyang’s government-run animation firm, SEK Studio, and companies and individuals related to it, of exploiting North Korean workers to earn much-needed foreign currency and avoid sanctions on the country.

SEK Studio has an international reputation and has contributed work to big-budget animated features including Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “The Lion King.”

This was the first new US sanctions to target North Korea since President Joe Biden took office, a move that comes after months of attempting to engage capital Pyongyang in talks on its nuclear program, The Treasury announced.

Also hit with sanctions was the North Korean Minister of People’s Armed Forces, Ri Yong Gil.

The Treasury also added four Myanmar state and regional chief ministers to its sanctions blacklist, accusing them of participating in “brutal crackdowns” against the Myanmar people.

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A Bangladesh internal security unit, the Rapid Action Battalion, which is accused of involvement in hundreds of disappearances and nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, was also included.

Six current or former officials of the Rapid Action Battalion were also sanctioned.

The 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.

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