Intel Provokes Fury In China Over Supplier Letter

Intel is facing a backlash in China after it penned a letter to suppliers, warning them not to source products or labour from the Xinjiang region of the country.

The United States and other countries have accused China of widespread human rights abuses and forced labour camps in Xinjiang, which is home to the country’s predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

UN experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people have been detained in a vast system of camps in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.

Beijing however has repeatedly denied abuses in Xinjiang and insists its policies are design to combat extremism.

Intel backlash

Reuters reported that once Intel’s directive to its suppliers not to source anything from Xinjiang became public knowledge, it provoked a strong response in China.

Intel’s annual letter to suppliers, dated December, said it had been “required to ensure that its supply chain does not use any labour or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region”, following restrictions imposed by “multiple governments,” Reuters reported.

Intel’s letter however sparked calls for a boycott.

For example, state-run newspaper The Global Times hit out at Intel in an editorial, and said the company’s statement was “absurd” and noted that the American chipmaker was “biting the hand that feeds it,” as it earned 26 percent of its revenues in China.

Intel has 10,000 employees in China, and has assembly and test sites in Shanghai and Chengdu.

The backlash also spread onto Chinese social media platforms, with many users on Weibo calling for a boycott of Intel products.

On Weibo, singer Karry Wang said he would no longer serve as brand ambassador for Intel, adding in a statement that “national interests exceed everything”, Reuters reported.

Intel apology

In response Intel issued an apology on Thursday on its official WeChat and Weibo accounts.

The US chip giant said that its commitment to avoid supply chains from Xinjiang was an expression of compliance with US law, rather than a statement of its position on the issue.

“We apologise for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public. Intel is committed to becoming a trusted technology partner and accelerating joint development with China,” Intel was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Intel did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment, but added in its apology that it “respected the sensitivity of the issue in China.”

China’s foreign ministry meanwhile reportedly said “accusations of forced labour in Xinjiang are lies concocted by anti-China American forces” aimed at destabilising China and hindering its development.

“We note the statement and hope the relevant company will respect facts and tell right from wrong,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reportedly told a daily briefing in Beijing.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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