Asia - Pacific

China uses US tech to monitor Uyghurs: report

Chinese government wants Uyghur Muslims more subservient to Communist Party, says New York Times

Umar Farooq   | 22.02.2019
China uses US tech to monitor Uyghurs: report

By Umar Farooq


The Chinese government has been using technology from the U.S. to monitor and track Uyghur Muslims in an attempt to make them subservient to the ruling Communist Party, according to The New York Times.

In order to expand on their DNA capabilities, the newspaper reported Chinese police and scientists had used equipment made by the U.S. company Thermo Fisher. They also relied on genetic material provided by Yale University geneticist Kenneth Kidd to create comparisons with Uyghur DNA.

The DNA collection program was called Physicals for All and between 2016-2017, around 36 million people had taken a part of it, according to the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

The program collected DNA and blood samples, images of irises and other personal information, under the guise of free medical check ups, and sometimes they were not voluntary, according to Uyghurs that spoke to The Times.

“Collecting genetic material is a key part of China’s campaign, according to human rights groups and Uighur activists. They say a comprehensive DNA database could be used to chase down any Uighurs who resist conforming to the campaign,” The Times said in a report Thursday, using an alternative spelling.

China’s Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uyghurs. The Turkic Muslim group, a majority group in the area, has long accused China’s authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.

As many as 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to U.S. officials and UN experts.

China stepped up its restrictions on the region in the past two years, banning men from growing beards and women from wearing veils and introducing this DNA and surveillance program.

"China wants to make the country’s Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, more subservient to the Communist Party," The Times reported.

The newspaper said China is claiming benefits that come with using genetic material to solve crimes is a proper justification for building a countrywide DNA database.

However, on Wednesday, Thermo Fisher shifted its position and said it would no longer sell equipment in Xinjiang, the part of China where a large part of the campaign to track Uyghurs is taking place.

Still, the global scientific community’s cooperation with Beijing “legitimizes this type of genetic surveillance,” said Mark Munsterhjelm, an assistant professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario who has tracked the use of U.S. technology in Xinjiang, told The Times.

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