Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked corporate America on Tuesday to think twice when doing business in China’s Xinjiang region, where he appeared to liken the scale of mass incarceration of Muslims to Nazi abuses.
Speaking to a business group, Pompeo stopped short of asking firms not to work with China but said he hoped to spark further discussion on the “enormous risk” of doing business in the country.
“We watch the massive human rights violations in Xinjiang where over a million people are being held in a humanitarian crisis that is the scale of what took place in the 1930s,” Pompeo said.
“And we see American businesses and their technology being used to help facilitate that activity from the Chinese government. It’s something worthy of thinking about,” the diplomatic chief said as he received an award from Business Executives for National Security.
Pompeo added that “I don’t know the answer,” recalling that as a business owner and a conservative Republican he opposes government interference in commerce.
Pompeo’s remarks come as US software titan Microsoft faces scrutiny over its joint research with Chinese government-linked scholars on artificial intelligence, with Beijing said to be using facial recognition technology in its crackdown in Xinjiang.
In February, US biotechnology manufacturer Thermo Fisher announced it would stop selling equipment used to create a DNA database of the Uighur minority.
A United Nations panel has cited estimates that China has rounded up some one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minorities, with activists accusing Beijing of curbing the practice of Islam.
China says the camps are “vocational training centers” to steer people away from extremism and reintegrate them, in a region plagued by violence blamed on Uighur separatists or Islamists.