US adds 12 Chinese firms to export control sanctions list

Image copyright AFP Image caption Chinese companies included in US trade blacklist include two herbal producers

The US has added 12 Chinese companies to its list of export control sanctions imposed on foreign businesses and individuals over human rights abuses.

The list restricts sales of products that can be used to harm civilians or soldiers.

The Chinese firms, all hailing from the state-run chemicals and biotech sectors, sell medicines, pesticides and other items banned by the US.

They include gold mining companies and two herbal producers.

China’s exports to the US have shot up to over $120bn over the past five years, according to the US.

But the importing countries are closely scrutinising these imports after investigations by human rights groups and the US Congress.

‘Demonstrate better behaviour’

President Donald Trump put sanctions in place in March 2018 on two Chinese companies: Hengli Group Corporation and Liansheng Pharmaceutical Group. The move followed the abduction and torture of several Chinese journalists in Myanmar.

The companies were also accused of producing and selling biological materials that could have been used in chemical weapons in conflicts in Libya and Syria.

After the latest US move, China has reacted to the sanctions by asking US authorities to provide more evidence that would allow it to challenge the list in court.

“As said from the beginning, this is based on suspicions and the illegal behaviour of the US side, rather than a judgment on the part of the Chinese side. I hope the relevant side can prove by means of evidence or others that China’s companies or citizens are engaged in an illegal act or violation of national laws, and can support our efforts to promote mutual benefit and mutual respect,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The move is unusual, said Zhang Hongsen, a professor from Zhejiang University and director of Zhejiang’s Chinese University of Foreign Studies Center of Information Analysis on Human Rights.

“It is a big step up, but the list itself is weak. We can say that the US is demonstrating better behaviour in this connection,” he told the BBC’s World Service Chinese service.

China is working to export more medicine to the US, according to a recent report by the official China Daily.

US congressional reforms in the 1990s banned illegal biological weapons for the civilian market. These are barred only for use by government departments.

But the report added that “companies are finding ways around the technical blockage”.

Chinese drug companies are trying to forge a way around the ban through innovative medical products that are not for sale commercially.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The list is part of the Executive Order signed by President Donald Trump in March 2018 to show his commitment to cracking down on Chinese commercial activities that violate human rights

“There are divisions within the state for different viewpoints,” said Prof Zhang Hongsen.

The suspension of the US embargo on imports of infant formula from China in 2015, which was seen by experts as a PR success for Beijing, had helped them circumvent the ban, he added.

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