Chinese Company That Surveils Uyghurs Has Major Role in Beijing Olympics

Lawmakers slam IOC's 'shameful' decision to let U.S.-sanctioned company sponsor games

(Photo by JADE GAO/AFP via Getty Images)
January 24, 2022

A Chinese company sanctioned by the United States for helping the government surveil Uyghurs is a major sponsor of the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

iFlytek is the exclusive supplier of automated translation software for the upcoming Winter Olympics. The Chinese government uses the company’s technology to surveil Chinese Uyghurs and other persecuted groups. The Commerce Department sanctioned iFlytek along with other Chinese artificial intelligence firms in 2019 for their role in "human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance."

Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called iFlytek’s involvement in the Olympics "truly shameful."

"The International Olympic Committee, which claims to 'recognize and uphold human rights,' is allowing a Chinese state-sponsored company that aids the Chinese government's atrocious human rights abuses against the Uyghurs to sponsor the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee," Risch told the Washington Free Beacon. "This just goes to show that the IOC values profit and its relationship with Beijing over all else."

The Beijing Olympics have drawn international scrutiny over Chinese human rights abuses. The United States announced a diplomatic boycott of the games in response to the country’s genocide of its Uyghur Muslim population. China this week threatened that Olympic athletes whose speech violates the "Olympic spirit" will be met with "certain punishment."

Human rights organizations have long slammed iFlytek for its collaboration with the Chinese Communist Party. "Authorities can easily misuse that data in a country with a long history of unchecked surveillance and retaliation against critics," according to Human Rights Watch.

Joining Risch in condemning the Chinese Communist Party is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas). McCaul told the Free Beacon that iFlytek’s "official involvement in the Olympics is a perfect example of how the Chinese Communist Party’s influence is a threat to American values."

Chinese journalists used iFlytek technology during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The company boasted that its dual screen translator allowed Chinese journalists "to solve the problem of cross-language communication between journalists, athletes, and staff."

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.), whose district includes the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, told the Free Beacon that "the United States must continue sanctions on companies who assist in carrying out genocide and crimes against the Uyghurs."

iFlytek partners with computer chip maker Intel, which is a sponsor of the Olympic Games. Intel was an early investor in iFlytek and has supplied chips to the company for its voice recognition technology. Intel lobbied Congress on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the law that prohibited imports that relied on Chinese slave labor. Intel came under fire for apologizing to Chinese authorities for telling suppliers it would not use supplies from Xinjiang.

Cybersecurity groups say China could exploit technology to surveil those in attendance at the Beijing games. The app Olympians and others must use to report health and travel data ahead of the games contains numerous encryption vulnerabilities, according to Citizen Lab. The app also contains computer code that censors certain political statements.