UBC conference faces criticism over speaker from tech company blacklisted in U.S.

VANCOUVER — A conference hosted by University of British Columbia students is facing criticism for having a speaker from a Chinese company that has been blacklisted by the United States over links to the repression of China's Muslim minority.

The UBC China Forum, a business conference organized by members of the university's BizChina Club, lists SenseTime executive director Jimmy Zhou as one of its confirmed speakers.

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The artificial intelligence company, which produces facial recognition software among its core technologies, was one of eight companies blacklisted by the U.S. last month for being implicated in China's repression and mass detention of the country's Uyghur community.

Mehmet Tohti, founder of the Uyghur Canadian Society said it "shocks our conscience" that the executive was being given a platform in Canada to advance the interests of the Chinese Community Party.

"I am disappointed to see that Canada has become the safe heaven of Chinese propaganda and CCP-backed Chinese enterprises," he said by email.

"SenseTime...and other Chinese companies should be condemned and sanctioned by Canada for their complicity with CCP regime in interning more than three million Uyghurs in concentration camps without any due process."

UBC president Santa Ono said in a video promoting the forum that he was "proud" the students were bringing a conference to UBC that follows on similar forums held at Harvard, Wharton and the London School of Economics.

The university said in a statement that the conference was a student initiative, focused on exploring business ideas between China and Canada, and directed any questions on the speakers to the student organizers.

The BizChina group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the forum, which is set to begin on Saturday.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology said last month it was reviewing its relationships with Chinese artificial intelligence companies after news of the blacklisting. The MIT-SenseTime Alliance on Artificial Intelligence funds multiple research projects.

SenseTime has said it is misunderstood and is actively developing its artificial intelligence code of ethics. It said it was "deeply disappointed" by the decision by the U.S. to blacklist the firm.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2019.

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