U.S. chipmaker Intel on Thursday apologized to its Chinese clients, partners and the Chinese public for requiring its suppliers to not use labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region in the midst of an intense public outcry.
Intel had sent the statement regarding Xinjiang to suppliers earlier this month, and after conservative Chinese media on Tuesday discovered the statement, the company came under a nationalistic firestorm on Chinese social media.
In response to the public backlash, Intel, which booked a quarter of its 2020 annual revenue from China and Hong Kong, stressed via its public WeChat account that it didn’t intend to declare a stance on Xinjiang in its letter to suppliers, and that it was just meant to comply with U.S. laws.
“We would like to clarify that the paragraphs in the letter regarding Xinjiang are intended to be a statement of compliance and legality only, and are not meant to express its intent or position,” Intel wrote, apologizing for “any distress" the controversy might have caused its Chinese customers, partners and the general public.
Intel, like many American multinationals operating in China, is caught up in a crossfire between the U.S. and China over human rights issues. Pro-government nationalist news site Guancha.cn accused the chipmaker of committing “the biggest offense to the Chinese market” by citing Western governments’ “vilification of ‘forced labor’" in Xinjiang. Nationalistic Weibo users have swarmed to Intel’s official Weibo account to express their condemnation. By Wednesday, a hashtag on the event had attracted more than 270 million views on Weibo. And Wang Junkai, a Chinese Intel brand ambassador, announced he was ending his partnership with the chipmaker in light of the controversy.
The Intel controversy has prompted a comment from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Spokesperson Zhao Lijian denied allegations about forced labor in Xinjiang at a Thursday press conference, and said they are “lies cooked up by anti-China forces in the U.S.”
“If certain companies choose not to use Xinjiang products,” Zhao said, “it is their loss.”