The Trump administration is reviewing ways to clamp down on the export of U.S. technology that China’s government could use in its surveillance and internment of minority Muslims, amid reports of mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs and others in the Xinjiang region.
In a letter to the leaders of a congressional committee, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his department, in consultation with the State Department and other agencies, could announce export policy changes within weeks.
“We are conducting this review expeditiously and expect to publish amendments to the EAR (Export Administration Regulations) later this fall," Ross said in the letter to Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith.
Ross said the review included assessing whether to add Chinese individuals, businesses and others to a list of entities subject to special license requirements, revising licensing policy and updating technologies controlled for the protection of human rights.
Any sanctions decision would be a rare move on human rights grounds by President Donald Trump's administration against China, with which it is engaged in a trade war while also seeking Beijing's help to resolve a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons.
Rubio and Smith, the Republican leaders of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, wrote to Ross in September urging the administration to broaden sanctions on China over its treatment of minority Muslims.
Ross' letter was a response to that letter.
The State Department expressed deep concern last month over China's "worsening crackdown" in the Xinjiang region, as officials considered sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses.
China has called for other nations to respect its sovereignty, saying Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions.