Uniview PRC China Investigation: State Surveillance, Xinjiang/Tibet, and the CCP

Published Feb 20, 2023 13:28 PM
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Uniview is a prolific supplier of tailored mass surveillance and "social governance" technology for PRC security forces, IPVM found in a multi-month investigation, with hundreds of projects across China including in Xinjiang and Tibet, joint-cooperation agreements with PRC authorities, and Uyghur tracking software for the government.

Similar activities led to sanctions and export controls on other PRC surveillance firms, like Dahua, Hikvision, and Tiandy. Uniview has never been sanctioned, but US authorities are reportedly considering it.

In this report, IPVM examines Uniview's role in PRC mass surveillance, presence in Xinjiang and Tibet, ties to the Communist Party, and more.

Executive Summary

Uniview has worked to become a key supplier to the PRC surveillance state, and boasted of its success, including in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Uniview supplies tailored hardware and software to at least hundreds of mass surveillance projects across the PRC. It also created Uyghur tracking software, and co-authored government standards on the ethnicity detection technology.

In Xinjiang, surveillance is key to and inherently facilitates the mass internment of Uyghurs and alleged crimes against humanity. In Tibet, where Uniview has a field office touting "social governance" solutions, Buddhist monks targeted by Beijing say surveillance systems' "only purpose is to make us feel fear."

Uniview signed joint cooperation agreements with several PRC security forces, even building a surveillance laboratory for one, and boasts of several projects for the Communist Party. Its CEO publicly praises Xi Jinping for his ideas.

Uniview did not respond to IPVM's multiple requests for comment for this article.

Uniview Background

Uniview is the PRC's third-largest video surveillance manufacturer by revenue: its 2021 revenue was ~$1 billion USD, compared to Hikvision's $12.4 billion and Dahua's $5 billion. Though smaller, it is comparable in terms of its range of products, price point, and global reach.

Uniview began in 2005 as a joint venture between Huawei and 3Com. Currently, it is owned by PRC firm TransInfo, which is itself partially-owned by Alibaba.

Uniview does not disclose how much revenue is earned abroad but told investors in 2022 its Americas revenue grew 65% in 2021.

Unlike its competitors, Dahua, Hikvision, and Tiandy (within China), Uniview has avoided all sanctions or export restrictions. For Uniview, this has been an "opportunity." CEO Zhang Pengguo told The Global Times in 2019:

We certainly should not applaud [the restrictions on Chinese companies], but objectively speaking, this is an opportunity for Uniview," Zhang said, projecting faster expansion for his company overseas in the next few years. "We will resolutely adhere to globalization; we will resolutely go out." [emphasis added]

Uyghur Recognition

Surveillance technology has been key to PRC persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. In 2022, a United Nations report found that Xinjiang's "highly invasive" surveillance constituted potential crimes against humanity.

In 2020, IPVM reported that Uniview's software allows its cameras to track ethnic Uyghurs. A Software Development Kit downloaded from Uniview's website, which it later deleted, specified Uyghur detection functionality:

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"Ethic" is a common misspelling of "ethnic." While Uyghurs are just one of 56 official ethnic groups in China, only Uyghurs are listed under Uniview's ethnic code tracking.

A PowerPoint from Uniview's website also promotes its race (种族) analytics:

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Uniview not only developed Uyghur recognition, it co-authored 6 PRC policy standards calling for ethnicity/skin color tracking in government projects. CORRECTION 03/21: Uniview co-authored 2, not 6, of these police standards, as originally reported by IPVM.

Uniview's sister company Bresee, also owned by TransInfo and which specializes in face recognition, published an explainer document stating that "ethnicity" tracks Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Han people:

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Bresee's CEO formerly headed Uniview's research institute, while Uniview VP Ximen Yan told an Australian trade mag last year that BreSee is Uniview's "newly developed algorithm and deep learning company which sits under our mother company" and will provide AI development for camera surveillance.

Bresee is partnered with Huawei, one of Uniview's founders. A powerpoint for a Huawei-Bresee integration says "ethnicity" is one of the 17 "face attributes" Bresee's face rec AI can detect.

Tailored Surveillance for PRC Authorities

IPVM research discovered Uniview goes far beyond simply supplying hardware to PRC police departments. It has tailored solutions for PRC public security needs, including a custom smart prison solution (undated), a custom Sharp Eyes solution (2018); and a custom Safe Cities solution (2018).

Uniview has also signed direct cooperation initiatives with several PRC police forces, including Ruijin Police in 2020 and Liaoning Police in 2017, with whom Uniview established a "video image laboratory."

On Weibo, Uniview claimed in 2020 that it won 741 "Safe City" projects and 249 "Sharp Eyes" projects with authorities:

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Uniview's website provides since-deleted, undated case studies of 3 of these Safe Cities deployments: in Hangzhou, Hainan, and Baishan.

Widespread use of Uniview by authorities is touted repeatedly by the state-run Global Times. A 2018 article titled "China Turns Televisions and Mobile Phones in Villages Into Surveillance Terminals" noted that "Sharp Eyes" projects are "bringing considerable growth and opportunities" to Uniview, and it "currently cooperates with local governments in provinces including Guangdong, Xinjiang, Sichuan and Yunnan."

In 2020, Global Times reported "[Uniview's] AI technologies, also known as the Smart Police Station, are applied in many investigative departments and police stations." The same year, police in Hangzhou deployed Uniview's Smart Policing system, while police in Xinping County deployed a similar system.

Xinjiang Mass Surveillance Deals, Deletes Evidence

Uniview has been an established surveillance provider in Xinjiang for at least a decade. In 2013, Uniview stated it had built "more than 20 safe cities in Xinjiang." Months later, it published a case study on its website of its Safe City project in Urumqi, with few details, but stating "its contribution and strength have been fully affirmed and commended by the Xinjiang Public Security Department."

The case study has since been deleted:

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Uniview has also touted "Full affirmation and commendation from Urumqi Public Security Bureau," in Xinjiang's capital.

In 2015, Uniview stated its "team has overcome all obstacles, from southern Xinjiang to northern Xinjiang, finally gaining a foothold in the market." In 2017, Uniview's Xinjiang branch presented at a conference in the region's capital Urumqi touting its video surveillance solutions. The same year, it published a map of its "Sharp Eyes" police projects including Urumqi, which has also since been deleted:

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In July 2021, a video posted on Douyin (China's TikTok) showed at least 40 Uniview employees in Urumqi gathered for a team building exercise with a banner reading "Stay united; Forge Ahead; Guard safety for beautiful lives – Uniview Urumqi representative office":

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At the same time, Uniview was hiring for 9 separate positions in Xinjiang including technical support, sales, engineers, etc.

UPDATE 03/24: in a 2017 press release, Uniview touted that its police "Sharp Eyes" (雪亮工程) projects were "Blooming and bearing fruit all over the country" (已经在全国遍地开花结果) including two places in Xinjiang: Urumqi, the capital, and Yili County (新疆乌鲁木齐, 新疆伊犁州).

Tibet Surveillance Projects

In 2012, The New York Times reported that Uniview built an "emergency command center" in Tibet. On its website, Uniview claimed the center "provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life." The NYT report cited human rights advocates who said Uniview's project is "used to intimidate and monitor political and religious dissidents."

A Tibetan Buddhist monk told NYT "the cameras helped the authorities identify and detain nearly 200 monks who participated in a protest at his monastery," and "There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel fear."

Years later, in 2017, Uniview touted deploying 300 facial recognition cameras for police in Tibet's Kunlun County, resulting in the arrest of two "blacklisted persons." CORRECTION 03/21: In fact, according to the Uniview post, police in Hunan Province deployed the "Kunlun" intelligent identification system; there is no "Kunlun County" in Tibet.

Uniview remains active in Tibet. In May 2021, Uniview's Tibet branch held a conference in the capital Lhasa touting its "social governance" and "public safety" solutions.

Uniview Communist Party Ties/Projects + CEO

Uniview has various ties to the Communist Party of China (CPC), in addition to its extensive involvement in government security projects.

In 2017, Uniview touted providing video surveillance for the Communist Party's National Congress in Beijing, and that year was announced as an institution providing revolutionary education.

In 2021, the year of the CPC's 100th anniversary, Uniview boasted about providing smart traffic products and management platform services for Fujian Provincial Party School's new campus:

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Based on this, Uniview touted it "Promotes AI Smart Transformation in Red Schools" across China. The company also received a visit from the Party Committee of Shandong University to teach its employees about party history.

Uniview's CEO Zhang Pengguo (pictured below), who used to work for Huawei, praised Xi Jinping's ideas as "very rich and worth learning," per a 2022 post on Uniview's website:

There is a stand beside his desk, on which is a thought map of Xi Jinping's New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Mind map, a high-frequency vocabulary of a technology company, reminds people of rigorous logic and thoughtful thinking. "I printed it out and posted it here. If you have anything to do, take a look at it. The content is very rich and worth learning." Zhang Pengguo said. [emphasis added]

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Source: Uniview.com

He's also "intensively read Selected Works of Mao Zedong" as one of his "hobbies" after work. Zhang said he has "intensively read the Selected Works of Mao Zedong" and was "impressed countless times by the strategic planning of On Contradiction and On Practice."

Zhang received his Bachelor of Science from Beijing University, one of China's prestigious "Defense Industry Universities." According to Uniview's website, he once worked at the "National Defense Research Institute."

Uniview No Response

IPVM reached out multiple times to Uniview for comment regarding our findings, but did not receive a response.

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