Blacklist: US efforts to cripple Chinese surveillance and AI

A look at the most recent Chinese high-tech companies to have been blacklisted by Washington over alleged human-rights abuses.

The ongoing US trade war against China often appears at first glance to be primarily a matter of restricting Chinese exports to America and other markets, and this is certainly occurring. However, more recent moves have in fact been aimed more at restricting the export of US technology to China.

Nowadays, around the world, an awful lot of the technology that people use or otherwise interact with tends to be made in China. Most of the world's smartphones, computers and other connected devices are assembled there. Much of the network backbone that connects the devices up comes from Chinese network titans like Huawei and ZTE. The 3G box on the Australian utility pole, the surveillance camera on the Argentinian street corner, the network box in the African Union's Addis Ababa headquarters - all of them quite likely come from China, and might be reporting back to China in ways that their nominal local owners might not want them to.

Meanwhile in China itself, an intensive surveillance state is burgeoning. In many cases, perhaps, local citizens don't mind having a facial-recognition camera on every street scanning for known criminals and alerting the local cops to their whereabouts. But in China's far northwestern Xinjiang province the camera may instead be identifying members of the Uighur ethnic group, targeting them so that they can be disappeared into an extrajudicial "re-education camp" where they may be brainwashed, tortured or simply not heard from again.

Nowadays a lot of people are aware of these issues. In the tech industry around the world, businesspeople are already closely monitoring the stances of their own governments around the world with respect to globally active Chinese firms such as Huawei: the solution to be offered to customers often depends heavily on which providers one is permitted to use.

It's actually all about US exports

What's less well known is the degree to which Chinese industry, assembling and deploying its products, is dependent on imports of advanced technology from overseas to make them. To begin with, China has never managed to establish an indigenous semiconductor base capable of serving its huge industrial needs. Then, Chinese developers, like everyone else, often need to use software from elsewhere, by no means all of it openly available.

Advanced Chinese products of all kinds are often developed with the help of overseas knowhow. And much of this key technology comes from the USA.

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