Thermo Fisher to Stop Sales of Genetic Sequencers to China’s Xinjiang Region

NATASHA KHAN FEBRUARY 20, 2019

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. said Wednesday it will no longer be selling or servicing genetic sequencers in China’s Xinjiang region, following mounting criticism that its products were used for state surveillance of citizens there that enabled human rights abuses.

The Waltham, Mass.-based company said the decision to stop supporting customers of its human identification technology in the area—where police have rolled out one of the most extensive state surveillance programs ever built—was “consistent with Thermo Fisher’s values, ethics code and policies” and followed “fact-specific assessments.”

“We recognize the importance of considering how our products and services are used—or may be used—by our customers,” the company said in a statement. It didn’t specify whether it would continue to sell these sequencers elsewhere in China.

The devices were described in a December 2017 Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the ways Chinese police gather DNA samples from many citizens who aren’t criminal suspects. Earlier that month, a report by Human Rights Watch identified Thermo Fisher as a supplier of some DNA sequencers to Xinjiang police.

The use of Thermo Fisher’s devices was then questioned by members of Congress. Last February, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio urged the company to ensure that its products weren’t being misused. In May, the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China—of which Mr. Rubio was then co-chairman—wrote a letter asking the U.S. Department of Commerce to take steps to prevent U.S. technology from being used for questionable practices by Chinese police, saying “ the government there is using technology, including U.S. made, to systematically crackdown on its people.”

Chinese companies rely on U.S. suppliers for high-tech DNA sequencers as well as microchips and other components needed to build artificial-intelligence equipment used for state surveillance.

Few locations in China are as extensively surveilled as Xinjiang. The province on China’s western frontier is at the forefront of Beijing’s deployment of surveillance technology and aggressive policing, to deal with what it sees as antigovernment, terrorist violence fueled by militant Islam. Up to one million people, or about 7% of the Muslim population there, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to U.S. officials and United Nations experts.

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