US Congressional Hearing on China Human Rights Crisis Calls Out Dahua and Hikvision
The US Congress had a hearing titled "Surveillance, Suppression, and Mass Detention: Xinjiang’s Human Rights Crisis" in which Dahua and Hikvision were called out.
Increasing attention is being paid to what is happening in Xinjiang, including calls for sanctions and boycotts against those involved in human rights violations.
In this post, we examine what was said and the potential impact on Hikvision and Dahua due to their extensive involvement in Xinjiang.
China has come under scrutiny from media and human rights organizations for allegedly detaining hundreds of thousands of members of the Uyghur ethnic minority and other Muslims in “re-education” centers across Xinjiang as part of an anti-terror campaign.
China has also drawn attention for its extensive use of surveillance technology there, from facial recognition terminals at gas stations to DNA harvesting. (Chinese state media says surveillance is “necessary to counter terrorism”.)
Hikvision and Dahua are major beneficiaries of this spending. IPVM reported in April that Hikvision and Dahua had won $1.2 billion in Chinese government contracts for 11 large-scale surveillance projects across Xinjiang since 2016.
What Was Said
To address the alleged human rights violations, the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a public hearing titled “Surveillance, Suppression, and Mass Detention: Xinjiang’s Human Rights Crisis” in DC on July 26, 2018.
Hikvision and Dahua were mentioned early on in the hearing by Republican Senator Marco Rubio (FL), who co-chaired the event, saying:
Two large Chinese firms, Hikvision and Dahua Technology, have profited greatly from the surge in security spending, reportedly winning upwards of $1.2 billion in Chinese government contracts for large scale surveillance projects.
The hearing, and reference to Dahua and Hikvision, may be watched below:
Mosque Video Surveillance Mentioned
While this was the only direct mention of Hikvision and Dahua at the hearing, security cameras were mentioned by ambassador Kelley Currie, the current US representative [link no longer available] at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. Currie said the “security state” in Xinjiang was “perhaps one of the most repressive in the world” and noted that it included “thousands of security cameras, including in mosques”.
As reported by IPVM, one of the government contracts won by Hikvision in Xinjiang mandated the installation of facial recognition cameras at almost 1,000 mosques – every single mosque in the predominantly Uyghur county of Moyu in Xinjiang.
Wire news agency AFP had previously reported that the same contract included 6 cameras for a “re-education” center, which IPVM confirmed were 8-imager panoramic cameras.
Immediate Repercussions Limited
Although Hikvision and Dahua were mentioned by name, any immediate impact to their activities due to their involvement in Xinjiang appears limited for now.
That is because the dominant focus from Marco Rubio and Chris Smith has been to track and possibly restrict exports of certain American surveillance-related technology products, like DNA sequencers from Thermo-Fisher Scientific, destined for use by authorities in Xinjiang. The two Congressmen wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about this issue in May.
The other main focus has been on imposing global Magnitsky sanctions – which ban specific foreign persons from visiting the US and freezes their foreign bank accounts – on Chinese government officials involved in the Xinjiang crackdown.
Risk Of Sanctions Remains
Magnitsky sanctions have traditionally been used against government officials and their associates, so their use against executives of large publicly-traded companies like Hikvision or Dahua would be a first.
However, it remains legally possible. As a long as a foreign person is found to be responsible for “gross violations” of “internationally recognized human rights” such as religious freedom, he or she can be sanctioned, the law reads.
While no one at the hearing mentioned this possibility, one prominent Xinjiang academic, James Leibold of Australia’s La Trobe University [link no longer available], told IPVM in an email he supported it:
Global Magnitsky sanctions should not only be applied to top Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang but also top executives at leading Chinese surveillance companies like Hikvision and Dahua who are profiting from the surveillance systems and human rights abuses associated with these so-called re-education camps in Xinjiang
The possibility of sanctions seems stronger against Hikvision due to its direct supplying of the “re-education” centers which have garnered so much attention.
Other Possible Impacts - Boycotts
Even if no sanctions are imposed, other possible impacts remain.
Given the increasing media attention on the region, a boycott or activist-driven campaign against Hikvision, Dahua, and other firms that profit from surveillance in Xinjiang is something that is possible.
Just a few years ago, Dahua and Hikvision were virtually unknown to International academics and politicians but this has changed rapidly. The increased notoriety that these firms are gaining increases the reputational risk globally, even to more mundane surveillance applications.