Xinjiang official warns foreign firms may face consumer boycotts

The warning underscores how US businesses are becoming ensnared in geopolitical tensions over Xinjiang. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - A Xinjiang official has warned that foreign companies could face boycotts from Chinese consumers, in one of the most direct signals yet that Beijing is willing to use its market power to counter a US-led human rights campaign.

Foreign companies removing Chinese products while profiting from the nation's market will inevitably face resistance from consumers, Xinjiang government spokesman Xu Guixiang told a news briefing on Thursday (Jan 13), according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

The remarks come weeks after United States President Joe Biden signed a law barring companies from selling goods from the western Chinese region over allegations of forced labour involving its predominately Muslim Uighur minority.

"We advise these companies not to underestimate the patriotic enthusiasm of Chinese consumers, the ability of Chinese consumers to safeguard their legitimate rights and interests, and the consequences of sneaky political manipulation," Mr Xu said.

"I advise these companies to consider their own interests," he added, pointing out that H&M and Intel both eventually had to "bow to Chinese consumers".

The warning underscores how US businesses are becoming ensnared in geopolitical tensions over Xinjiang, where China has been accused by the US and others of waging a campaign to suppress the Uighur population.

Beijing officials have consistently denied that forced labour is used in Xinjiang, saying that the US claims are aimed at suppressing China's development.

The Bill that Mr Biden signed on Dec 23 bans companies from selling goods in the US that were made with components from the Xinjiang region - unless they can prove that forced labour was not involved.

Some US lawmakers have also voiced concern that uniforms worn by participants in the Beijing Winter Games may be made with forced labour.

Mr Xu's comments come in response to allegations that Walmart had stopped selling Xinjiang items at its members-only Sam's Club chain in China.

A representative for Sam's Club told analysts that the issue was a "misunderstanding" and that Chinese customers did not find Xinjiang items on its app because the platform did not support searches based on place names, Reuters reported earlier.

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