State Department imposes sanctions on employees of Chinese tech companies, including Huawei

Focus on tech companies comes amid fears that China has been using such companies for global espionage

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that the U.S. will impose sanctions on some employees of Chinese tech companies like Huawei, over their role in "facilitating human rights abuses."

He told reporters that visa restrictions would be placed on certain employees of Chinese technology companies who provide "material support to regimes engaging in human rights violations and abuses globally."

Pompeo later tweeted that this includes workers "involved in providing surveillance equipment to repressive regimes." He made clear this includes the Chinese government.

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Pompeo cited the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the U.S. to deny entry to a foreign national if the secretary of state has reason to believe their entry "would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States."

He mentioned Huawei specifically, while also praising the U.K.’s decision a day earlier to ban Huawei from the country’s 5G networks because of U.S. sanctions. In a separate statement, Pompeo described Huawei as "an arm of the CCP’s surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang and the indentured servitude of its population shipped all over China."

"Certain Huawei employees provide material support to the CCP regime that commits human rights abuses," he said.

The move is the latest pushback by the Trump administration against Chinese expansionism abroad and human rights violations at home. The State Department and Treasury last week announced sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials believed to be involved in the persecution of Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region of China.

On Tuesday, President Trump announced that he had signed an executive order that ends the U.S. preferential treatment of Hong Kong in response to Beijing’s incursions on freedom and human rights in the territory via its recently passed “national security” law.

Trump also signed into law the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which imposes sanctions on entities that help violate Hong Kong's autonomy and financial institutions that do business with them.

China, meanwhile, announced that it will be placing sanctions on U.S.-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. for their missile sales to Taiwan.

The sanctions represent yet another move in the rapidly deteriorating relationship between China and the U.S. Tensions were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Wuhan and was suspected of having been covered up by the Chinese authorities until it was too late to stop it from becoming a global crisis.

The U.S. has highlighted the treatment of Uyghur Muslims, who are subjected to forced labor, forced abortion and sterilization and other human rights abuses.

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The focus on Chinese tech companies comes amid fears that China has been using such companies for global espionage. Pompeo has said the U.S. is looking at banning the app TikTok over security fears.

On Wednesday, Pompeo said the moves by the U.S. are having an impact on changing Chinese behavior.

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“You’ve seen the language they use, you can see we’re having a real impact and we will continue to do the things we need to do to make sure the American people are safe and secure and that we have a set of fair and reciprocal relationships,” he said.

“We want good things for the people of China, we have a Chinese Communist Party that is putting freedom and democracy at risk by their expansionist imperialist authoritarian behavior, that's the behavior that we’re trying to see changed,” he said.

Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and Andrew Craft contributed to this report.