On Friday, as part of the Summit for Democracy it organized, the Biden administration announced the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative, a coordinated effort among several governments related to export controls and human rights, with China as one of the targets.
A joint statement signed by the governments of Australia, Denmark, Norway, and the United States, with support expressed by Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, stated that "authoritarian governments increasingly are using surveillance tools and other related technologies in connection with serious human rights abuses, both within their countries and across international borders, including in acts of transnational repression to censor political opposition and track dissidents." Such use, the statement said, "risks defeating the benefits that advanced technologies may bring to the world’s nations and peoples." The signatory governments stated that in the coming year, they "commit to working to establish a voluntary, nonbinding written code of conduct around which like-minded states could politically pledge, to use export control tools to prevent the proliferation of software and other technologies used to enable serious human rights abuses."
The joint statement refers to "authoritarian governments" but does not name anyone in particular. In an accompanying fact sheet, the Biden administration noted that "[t]oo often, cyber intrusion, surveillance, and other dual-use technologies are misused to stifle dissent; harass human rights defenders; intimidate minority communities; discourage whistle-blowers; chill free expression; target political opponents, journalists, and lawyers; or interfere arbitrarily or unlawfully with privacy." The Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative "will seek to address this challenge" by:
- Working to develop a voluntary written code of conduct intended to guide the application of human rights criteria to export licensing policy and practice.
- Building policy alignment with likeminded partners that leads to common action, and concrete and practical outcomes.
- Bringing together policy makers, technical experts, and export control and human rights practitioners to ensure that critical and emerging technologies work for, and not against, democratic societies.
- During the Summit for Democracy’s Year of Action, we will shape this Initiative collaboratively with our partners and explore how best to strengthen domestic legal frameworks; share information on threats and risks; share, develop and implement best practices; and improve others’ capacity to do the same. Over the coming year, we will also engage in further coordination with other governments, as well as consult with industry and academia.
While many of the principles and policies articulated here apply generally, the fact sheet does offer specific examples related to China, as it notes that this initiative and other recent efforts "build on steps the United States has already taken to stem the misuse of technology to abuse human rights," including the following:
In July, the United States Government added to the Commerce Department’s Entity List entities located in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that have been enabling human rights abuses against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, where the PRC continues to commit genocide. This action prevents the entities from gaining access to U.S. technology.