China’s racism: Powered by AI
China’s digital dictatorial influence extends beyond its borders and has seeped into multinational corporations and various government organizations.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has aggressively pushed for the expansion of its domestic players in the industry, with Huawei emerging as a major winner. As the world’s largest telecommunications equipment vendor, Huawei has occupied a major chunk of the supply chain, from laptops to phones to the data centers hosting digital content. Huawei designs and manufactures network switches, gateways, routers and bridges — the core infrastructure devices that are critical components for utilizing the internet — as well as radio equipment such as antennas.
The exposure of Chinese espionage activities in the top ranks of various governments has propelled governments to rethink their contracts with the tech giant, particularly for the 5G network.
The United Kingdom stripped access for Huawei to build Britain’s 5G network, with limited permissions for “non-core” infrastructure-building and a ceiling of 35 percent ownership of the market share. The United States, last May, put restrictions on Huawei, preventing American-designed computer chips to be used on any Huawei equipment. Australia has prohibited the installation of Huawei equipment in its next-generation telecommunications apparatus.
Huawei — founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer of the People’s Liberation Army with strong ties to the CCP — has been cited as a security concern, owing to China’s foreign policy of using businesses as one of its prime elements in modern warfare. Huawei’s networking equipment is capable of facilitating espionage and potentially taking down an entire telecommunications infrastructure during an international crisis. Huawei employees have been caught engaging in corporate espionage and intellectual property theft.
Apart from security concerns, a debate is raging along ethical lines. A Huawei patent, filed in July 2018, has been highlighted for its racial-profiling feature. The system identifies people of Uighur and other Turkic origins and raises an alarm for local authorities to move swiftly into action. It describes ways to use deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to identify pedestrians through physical attributes to accurately identify ethnicity. Earlier, a “Uighur alert” system was flagged by the video-surveillance group IPVM. Huawei has denied the real-world application of both systems and has said the company “opposes discrimination of all types.”
Apart from Huawei, other Chinese AI companies, such as SenseTime and Megvii, reportedly have been developing software that targets Uighur and other Turkic people through facial recognition. The Chinese government has included ethnic analytics as part of its facial recognition guidelines. Chinese security camera manufacturers such as Hikvision, Dahua and Uniview even offer “Uighur analytics.” SenseTime’s patent, filed in July 2019, involves the use of facial recognition for “security protection” through specific searches such as “a middle-aged Uighur with sunglasses and a beard.” Megvii’s June 2019 patent described ways to re-label pictures of faces with ethnic tags. Both companies have tried to distance themselves from the controversy by shirking off the ethno-racial profiling features, citing a “misunderstanding” and incorrect use of language.
Another image-recognition patent that was flagged was that of Alibaba and Baidu, which referenced classification of people by ethnicity without mentioning Uighur people. Intellifusion and SensingTech — both Chinese AI/facial recognition startups — also filed for similar patents that involved detection of Uighur people.
These AI-powered racist apps, combined with DNA ethno-racial profiling and a vast ethnic biometric and image database of ethnic populations, have served as digital shackles on Uighur and Tibetan people. Like white supremacists, the CCP uses them to create fear and terror — to demonize non-Han Chinese ethnic races as inferior, uncivilized and untrustworthy, and deserved to be incarcerated for “re-education” or eliminated if they refuse to accept the CCP’s “superior” rule and culture.
This Chinese racism has destroyed millions of Uighur families, with many tortured in Nazi-style “re-education” camps. Children are forcibly removed from their parents and locked up in state-assigned boarding schools, where they are subject to indoctrination of CCP policies and ideologies. Racism has subjected Uighur and Tibetan families to mass surveillance throughout their lives, and they are forced to work as bonded laborers for China’s factories.
The dragon nation has faced a barrage of criticism over the treatment of specific ethnic groups from occupied regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang. China, which holds a prized permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, has no qualms about its own racism problem in 2021.
We urge the Biden administration to continue its predecessor’s genocide determination of CCP atrocities against Uighurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang; to make the ethno-racial technologies illegal; to impose more forceful sanctions against Chinese companies that develop and operate these technologies; and to expand the export bans against all forced-labor products from the region.
Western countries must come together to hold China accountable for its actions, before millions of Uighurs become a mere statistic in the pages of history in a world that long ago promised humanity “never again.”
Jianli Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, a Tiananmen Massacre survivor, and a former political prisoner in China.
Lianchao Han is vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, he was one of the founders of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. He worked in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, as legislative counsel and policy director for three senators.