Intel apologizes following public backlash and boycotts in China after it told suppliers not to source from Xinjiang
- A letter from Intel advising suppliers avoid sourcing from Xinjiang went viral on Chinese social media.
- Weibo users are boycotting Intel products and a Chinese pop star ended his partnership with the brand.
- Intel apologized to the Chinese public and said it was following protocol, not expressing a political opinion.
Intel has apologized to China after the US chip giant told suppliers to avoid sourcing from Xinjiang, where there are concerns over human rights abuses.
In an annual letter to suppliers dated December 2021, the company said: "Intel is required to ensure our supply chain does not use any labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region." The letter is available in several languages, including English and Chinese.
The company said it was addressing queries from investors and customers on whether it buys goods or services from Xinjiang. Intel also noted that multiple governments had imposed restrictions on products from the region.
Intel's letter went viral on Chinese social media, and several social media users called for a boycott of Intel products. Karry Wang Junkai, a popular Chinese pop star who was an Intel brand ambassador, also terminated his partnerships with the brand on Monday night, according to a post on his official Weibo account.
State media also weighed into the issue, with the Global Times saying Intel was biting the hand feeding it. According to an earnings report from the company, China accounted for a quarter of Intel's revenue in 2020.
In response to the outrage, Intel said it respected the "sensitivity" of the issue and added that its intention in the letter was to ensure compliance with US laws, according to a statement on the company's Weibo microblog account on Thursday.
Intel added its statements on Xinjiang were not meant to take a political position on the issue.
"We sincerely apologize for the distress caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners, and the general public," the statement added.
The developments come amid intense concerns about human rights abuses against the Uyghur, a Turkic Muslim minority ethnic group, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In 2018, the United Nations called the region a "no rights zone" and said the area was a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy."
Intel is not the first international firm to be caught in geopolitical crosshairs over the Xinjiang issue. Earlier this year, Chinese social media users took to burning their Nikes after the sportswear giant said it would not use cotton from the region.
Last week, the US Congress passed a ban on all imports from China's Xinjiang unless businesses prove they are made without forced labor.
China has repeatedly denied human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
"To serve the scheme of containing China with the Xinjiang issue, some US politicians have stopped at nothing to smear and slander Xinjiang," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a regular press conference on Monday, according to an official transcript.