Speakers from blacklisted Chinese tech firm no longer attending UBC conference

Speakers from two controversial Chinese tech firms — including one blacklisted in the United States for its work monitoring the Uighur ethnic group in China — will no longer be speaking at a conference sponsored by a club at the University of British Columbia.

The UBC China Forum, set to be held Nov. 16 and 17 in Vancouver, promotes business links between Canada and China, and is organized by the BizChina Club from UBC's Sauder School of Business.

The event previously listed Jimmy Zhou, executive director of SenseTime,  and Lina Chen, the chief editor of Sina Weibo, as speakers, but their names have since been removed from the conference website.

It's not known why the speakers are no longer attending, and a spokesperson from UBC declined to comment. The Vancouver Uighurs Association had planned to protest outside the conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre this weekend.

SenseTime is an artificial intelligence startup based in Hong Kong that has worked with Chinese tech giant Huawei to launch a facial recognition program.

Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

In October, the company was blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Commerce for alleged human rights violations against Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Facial recognition technologies developed by the firm have been used by the Chinese government to monitor the Muslim minority in the northwestern Chinese province, according to the New York Times.

Sina Weibo is a major Chinese social media platform that has censored topics that Beijing deems politically sensitive, including the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

On Friday, the conference posted a statement on its site that read, "Due to extenuating circumstances, our speakers from SenseTime and Sina Weibo will no longer be participating in the 2019 China Forum. We apologize for the short notice and wish everyone will have a pleasant weekend at our event."

Event promoted by UBC

Though UBC declined to comment on Saturday morning, saying the student group was responsible for the conference, the event has been promoted by UBC president Santa Ono.

George Chow, B.C. minister of state for trade, described the two-day conference in a promotional video as "a great opportunity to bridge Canadian and Chinese business and culture."

The conference has also received support from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, according to a message on the Chinese instant messaging platform WeChat.

Student organizers did not immediately respond to CBC's request for comment.

Shalina Nurly, a youth leader for the Vancouver Uighur Association, showed up to protest outside the event, despite having heard on Friday that the speakers would no longer be attending.

"Us taking a step forward and speaking out does work and we have seen the results of it," Nurly said.

"This is just one of many cases where we're doing business with China ... as Canadians we have the right to speak up, and we have all these rights that the Uighur Muslims in China don't have."

UBC China Forum