Evidence of Dahua's Involvement In Xinjiang Surveillance

Published Nov 28, 2018 15:05 PM
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IPVM adds new details about Dahua’s activities in Xinjiang, a Chinese region where mass surveillance used to facilitate grave human rights violations has exposed the company to US sanctions considerations.

Dahua has won nearly $1 billion across five large-scale government surveillance projects in Xinjiang that have been publicly found:

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IPVM has identified new evidence that these projects include aspects identified as particularly worrisome by human rights groups, such as:

  • Dahua’s construction of police stations
  • Dahua’s installation of “WiFi sniffers”, an invasive surveillance technology

IPVM has also found more general evidence of Dahua’s extensive Xinjiang activities, including:

  • Dahua’s construction of a large R&D and manufacturing hub
  • Dahua founder’s multiple trips to Xinjiang

Xinjiang Background

The Chinese government has come under fire for detaining up to one million civilians, mostly Muslim members of the Uyghur ethnic minority, in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang as part of a heavy-handed crackdown against terrorism and separatism.

China has also been criticized for deploying unparalleled levels of video surveillance in the region, a move defended by Chinese state media defend as “necessary to counter terrorism”.

Police Stations Constructed By Dahua

Dahua is building and contracted to operate some of Xinjiang’s ubiquitous police stations. Construction of thousands of new police stations has been a signature move by top Xinjiang official Chen Quanguo, Reuters reports, which can be found at “almost every corner” of major cities. Reuters notes:

Critics, including Uighur and rights groups, say the real purpose of the convenience police stations is to spy on the population.

China euphemistically calls them "convenience police stations" (便民 / Biànmín), though these ubiquitous stations are for the 'convenience' of the government, not the suppressed Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Dahua's announcement for its massive $686 million surveillance project in Xinjiang’s Yarkant County explains they agreed to build and operate this specific surveillance project for a decade before transferring it fully to Xinjiang authorities:

The project cooperation period is 10 years (including the construction period of 1 year and the operation period of 9 years). The construction contents mainly include the public video network sharing platform of Yarkant County, the convenience police station project of Yarkant County, infrastructure construction in dense areas in Yarkant County, the construction of comprehensive rural stability infrastructure in Yarkant County, and other construction projects.

Despite this project’s huge price tag, Yarkant County’s total population is estimated at only around 850,000 people (similar in size to Austin, Texas, USA or Zagreb, Croatia). This disproportionate surveillance spending may be due to Yarkant’s history of ethnic unrest – at least 100 were killed in riots there in 2014.

Due to a Chinese government debt crackdown, Dahua said in its Q3 report [link no longer available] that the Yarkant project had been temporarily halted, although it was “already halfway built”.

In Xinjiang’s Qiemo County, Dahua won a different surveillance project [link no longer available] in 2017 worth $61 million with local firm Leon Technology. The project’s tender calls for building urban and rural police stations, data centers, and police checkpoints.

Leon Technology has done “a lot of informatization” of “convenience police stations” in Xinjiang, according to documents translated by Oxford researcher Jeffrey Ding. Ding described Leon Technology’s Xinjiang operations as “deeply troubling” for giving facial recognition a “key role” in Chinese government surveillance.

The Qiemo County tender specifies that both Dahua and Leon Technology build the project for one year and then directly operate it for 9 years before transferring it to Xinjiang authorities.

Dahua Project Includes WiFi “Sniffers” Technology

Dahua’s joint project with Leon Technology in Qiemo County also includes technology singled out as particularly troubling by human rights activists.

The project’s tender lists “a system that capture the features of wireless MAC [media access control] addresses via a mobile [movable] terminal”, i.e. mobile WiFi “sniffers.”

Human Rights Watch has said that Xinjiang authorities use WiFi sniffers “which collect the unique identifying addresses of computers, smartphones, and other networked devices” as part of an extensive system of sensors called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform or IJOP that tracks Muslims and flags them for detention.

(The IJOP, which Hikvision is helping build, has been compared to apartheid by The Economist).

WiFi sniffers would allow Xinjiang authorities to covertly link a person’s cellphone to their appearance on surveillance footage, allowing them to better track people who bypass facial recognition or other analytics.

In the West, given privacy concerns, such technology is rarely even marketed, with the only example IPVM recalls from ASIS 2018, where IndigoVision advertised this kind of software as part of a collaboration with Locality Systems. Locality Systems declined a request for comment on their technology after that show.

Dahua Builds Xinjiang Security Hub to ensure “Stability”

Dahua is building a large-scale manufacturing and R&D center in Xinjiang that local Chinese media says will carry out research to ensure “stability” in the region and elsewhere.

In 2017, Xinjiang’s Changji City government announced [link no longer available] that Dahua was building an industrial park in the city called the “Dahua Security Science and Technology Information Industry Park.” Local Changji media reported that the industrial park is “large” and includes “six major centers”: an R&D center, a manufacturing center, a logistics center, a management center, and a monitoring center.

These centers will “support and meet the demand for various security technologies that are required for ensuring stability in Xinjiang,” local media reported, claiming the park would “carry out customized research and development” not only for Xinjiang but also Central Asia.

The park’s establishment “also means a lot for our region in terms of achieving our top-level goals of building a modern security system, improving the technological capability of security systems, and improving the public’s sense of feeling safe and happy”, local media reported.

Dahua’s founder and chairman, Fu Liquan, was pictured attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the center. Numerous local officials were also in attendance, including the governor of Changji prefecture. Below is Dahua founder Fu Liquan in front of a sign celebrating the opening:

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Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail has previously raised ethical concerns about Huawei building an R&D center in Xinjiang. The Dahua center, however, has been unreported in the Western media thus far.

Dahua Founder Visits Xinjiang At Least Three Times

IPVM has identified three separate visits to Xinjiang by Dahua founder Fu Liquan.

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Two of those appearances were at the Xinjiang Regional Promotion Conference, a business conference organized by Dahua in Urumqi with hundreds of “leaders and partners from various public security, energy, transportation, finance, justice, education and other sectors in Xinjiang”:

  • During the 2015 conference, Fu LIquan gave a speech saying that “with the strong support of all parties in Xinjiang, Dahua has become one of the most important security products and solutions providers in the Xinjiang market.”
  • During the 2016 conference, Fu also gave a speech where he noted that there were “more than 150 sales and service employees in Xinjiang”. Photo of Fu to the right from that conference.
  • As noted previously, Fu Liquan attended the inauguration of Dahua’s new industrial hub in Xinjiang’s Changji City in August 2017.

Hikvision Comparison

This post is a follow-up to an earlier post focusing on Hikvision, in which IPVM found that Hikvision won surveillance contracts for at least two of the “re-education” camps being used in mass detentions and is helping authorities build the IJOP, Xinjiang’s big data-based surveillance system called out by Human Rights Watch.

IPVM did not find evidence of Dahua directly supplying to Xinjiang’s network of re-education camps or the IJOP.

2018 No Projects Disclosed

Despite the numerous projects disclosed in 2017, we found no public 2018 mentions for large scale surveillance projects in Xinjiang for either Dahua or Hikvision. This is most likely due to cost reductions or China reducing publicity since international criticism ramped up in the past year.

On the cost side, the Chinese government’s national crackdown on debt-financed “private public partnerships”, a model highly popular in Xinjiang, could be a factor. On the publicity side, since the WSJ's December 2017 feature "Twelve Days in Xinjiang: How China’s Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life", the negative attention has grown considerably, making it imprudent for the government and its largest surveillance manufacturers, such as Hikvision and Dahua, to promote profits from their projects there.

China has already taken the step of blocking IPVM’s website in the country, a move one Xinjiang expert said may have been due to IPVM’s critical reporting on the region.

Dahua Downplays Xinjiang Sanctions

Despite its extensive involvement in Xinjiang and the negative press surrounding the region, Dahua, like Hikvision, has never publicly addressed the possibility of its complicity in human rights abuses there.

Dahua has, however, responded to worried Chinese investors [link no longer available] that the Xinjiang-related sanctions proposed by US lawmakers would harm its bottom line, saying the sanctions’ actual imposition are far from certain.

The US government has not responded [to this] yet. Dahua is a purely commercial entity with operations in more than 180 countries and regions around the world. It strictly abides by local laws and regulations.

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