The US Commerce Department hit several Chinese companies with export restrictions on Thursday, citing national security reasons including what Washington says is their role in oppressing China's Uyghurs or helping Beijing's military.
A senior administration official had said earlier in the day the Commerce Department and Treasury Departments would announce a series of actions on Thursday targeting Chinese companies that the Biden Administration accuses of using biotechnology and surveillance to abuse human rights.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The US move on Thursday followed a US investment ban placed last week on Chinese facial recognition company SenseTime, and could worsen already rocky relations between Beijing and Washington.
Citing their role in the Chinese government's alleged oppression of ethnic Uyghurs, the Commerce Department added China's Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes to its list of companies and institutions, restricting access to exports.
The department also added HMN International, formerly Huawei Marine, as well as Jiangsu Hengtong Marine Cable Systems, Jiangsu Hengtong OpticElectric, Shanghai Aoshi Control Technology Co., Ltd., and Zhongtian Technology Submarine Cable to the list for allegedly acquiring, or attempting to acquire, technology from the United States to help modernize the People's Liberation Army.
UN experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China's far-west region of Xinjiang.
China denies rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The so-called entity list has become a go-to tool for Washington in the US-China tech feud since the Trump administration. Suppliers to companies that have been placed on the list must seek a special license from the Commerce Department to ship goods to the targetted company. The license requests face a tough standard of review.
"These (Thursday's) actions come in the broader context of the administration's efforts to address the misuse of technology to surveil, and in many cases, as with the PRC, to exercise large scale repressive social control," the senior official told reporters, referring to the People's Republic of China.
The restrictions are likely to inject further mistrust into the already shaky US-China relationship, despite President Joe Biden’s effort in a November virtual meeting with China’s leader Xi Jinping to establish “guardrails” to prevent the two superpowers from sliding toward conflict.
Beijing and Washington have been clashing over a broad set of issues, including US criticism of China’s expanding nuclear arsenal and the Biden administration’s decision this month for US government officials to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over rights abuses.
Washington accuses China of genocide against minority Muslims in Xinjiang.
Aside from China, the Commerce Department also took action against entities from Georgia, Malaysia, and Turkey for allegedly "diverting or attempting to divert US items to Iran’s military programs."