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Intel apologizes after Xinjiang policy sparks China backlash

Chipmaker told suppliers not to source from region due to U.S. import ban

U.S. chipmaker Intel is the latest overseas company to face a backlash in China, after it instructed suppliers not to source inputs from Xinjiang. (Source photos by AP) 

SHANGHAI -- Intel apologized to China on Thursday for telling its suppliers not to source from the country's Xinjiang region, where the U.S. alleges human rights violations are taking place against the ethnic Uyghur Muslim population.

In a statement in Chinese posted on microblogging site Weibo, the American chipmaker clarified that the instruction to suppliers was given to ensure compliance with U.S. laws, and did not represent the company's own position.

"We apologize for the distress caused to our esteemed Chinese customers, partners and the general public," the statement said.

The U.S. Senate passed legislation last week banning imports from Xinjiang, the latest move in response to Beijing's alleged abuses against the Uyghurs. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied accusations of mistreatment.

China's state-controlled Global Times called Intel's instruction to suppliers "absurd," saying the U.S. semiconductor manufacturer earned 26% of its revenue from China and Hong Kong last year.

"What we need to do is to make it increasingly expensive for companies to offend China, so their losses outweigh their gains," the nationalist tabloid wrote in an editorial on Thursday.

Karry Wang, the lead singer of Chinese pop group Tfboys, terminated his brand ambassador contract with Intel on Wednesday to protect China's "national interest."

Netizens inundated Intel's Weibo page with nationalist slogans backing Wang and criticizing the U.S. company.

"Do you still want to sponsor the Olympics?" wrote one commentator in response to Intel's advertisement as global sponsor of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

Citing its 36-year history in China, where it has 10,000 employees, Intel said it is committed to the country as a trusted technology partner and will accelerate its development there.

Intel is only the latest Western brand to face a backlash in China. H&M was forced to shut some of its outlets in China in March after a consumer boycott over the Swedish fashion retailer's statement expressing concern over reports of forced labor in Xinjiang.

The chipmaker's apology highlights the dilemma facing foreign companies, who are attracted to China's massive consumer market but often find themselves caught in the middle of disputes over human rights. 

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