Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

Intel has apologized to partners and customers in China after telling local suppliers it would not use labor or goods from the country’s Xinjiang region. The company has removed the statement that led to the original response.

International trade with Xinjiang has been restricted by numerous governments, including the US, due to China’s treatment of the region’s Muslim Uyghur minority population. Earlier this month, the US passed a ban on imports from Xinjiang unless companies can prove goods were made without the use of forced labor. The US government has described the repression of the Muslim minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang as a “genocide”.

In its annual letter to suppliers, Intel said it was “mandatory” to follow Xinjiang trade restrictions imposed by “multiple governments” and ensure our supply chain does not use labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region. (That portion of the letter has now been removed from Intel’s website, but an archived version can be found here.)

This normally procedural note caused a backlash in China. The letter went viral on Chinese social media, prompting Chinese pop star Karry Wang, a former Intel ambassador, to cut ties with the company (“National interest trumps all,” Wang said on social media), while the nationalist outlet Global times accused Intel of “biting the hand that feeds it”.

The Chinese market is responsible for a quarter of Intel’s global revenue, or about $20 billion. The company also employs more than 10,000 people in China. A New York Times research in 2020 found that chips from Intel were being used to power supercomputers deployed by the Chinese government for Uyghur surveillance.

In response to this backlash, Intel issued an apology on Chinese social media sites on Wednesday. In a letter to the Chinese public and local partners, Intel said it was restricting trade with Xinjiang only as a legal formality and not as a political statement. “We apologize for the problems caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public,” the letter said. “For clarification, the Xinjiang paragraph in the letter is only intended to express the original intent of compliance and legality, not its intent or position.”

Press Secretary Jen Psaki. of the White House was asked to comment on the letter said that “American companies should never feel the need to apologize for standing up for basic human rights or opposing repression.” Psaki did not comment directly on Intel, but said“I can say in general that we believe that the private sector and the international community should oppose the PRC’s arming of its markets in order to suppress support for human rights.”

Intel’s problem is the latest example of US tech companies being pressured on both sides by the demands of the US and Chinese governments. There are countless examples of US companies following pushy Chinese orders to keep business in the country. These range from the significant, such as Apple storing user data on servers of Chinese state-owned companies, to the absurd, such as Amazon’s removal of all under-five-star reviews for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book. Intel’s apology for following US law will not be the last example of this pressure leading to hypocrisy.

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