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A hot potato: Intel has apologized to China following a letter to suppliers in which it urged them not to source products or labor from the Xinjiang region. The statement sparked a backlash in the country and led to calls for a boycott of Intel products.
In an annual letter to suppliers dated December 2021, Intel wrote that it "is required to ensure our supply chain does not use any labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region" of China, following restrictions put in place by "multiple governments."
The Xinjiang region is home to much of China's Muslim Uyghur population. Human rights groups have long claimed they are often detained in "re-education" camps and used as forced labor that feeds into the global tech and retail supply chains.
China denies the accusations, referring to the camps as "vocational training centers" designed to combat poverty and religious extremism.
The letter sparked a backlash on the Chinese social media platform Weibo and the country's state media, with many calling for an Intel boycott. CNN reports that People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper, called the statement "absurd" and warned that Intel is "biting the hand that feeds it."
Wang Junkai, a Chinese pop star who served as a brand ambassador for Intel Core, said he had cut ties with the company because of its statement. "National interests are above all else," he said.
Intel responded to the outcry with a Chinese-language statement on Thursday on its official WeChat and Weibo accounts. "We apologize 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," the company said. It added that it respected "the sensitivity of the issue in China."
It seems not everyone in China is convinced by Chipzilla's response. "Is Intel's apology sincere?" was trending on Weibo earlier today.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that "claims related to Xinjiang, such as forced labor," are "lies by US's anti-China forces."
"We note the statement and hope the relevant company will respect facts and tell right from wrong," he added.
Intel has 10,000 employees in China, which was its biggest customer in 2020, generating a net revenue of $20.26 billion. But it isn't the only US tech giant with close ties to the Asian nation. China is also one of Apple's biggest markets; a recent report claims that CEO Tim Cook signed a secret $275 billion investment deal with Chinese officials to help the company succeed in the country