Intel ‘regrets’ offending China with letter telling suppliers to avoid Xinjiang

Don’t mention the human rights abuses, focus on the need for compliance

Intel has expressed regret for the way its warning its suppliers not to use labour, or source goods, from China’s Xinjiang region, has been interpreted inside the Middle Kingdom.

China is credibly accused of conducting genocide in Xinjiang, a region whose inhabitants are mostly members of the Uyghur people and practice Islam. Human rights organisation Amnesty International’s assessment of the situation in Xinjiang found “Muslim ethnic minorities face systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, torture and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity.”

The USA’s assessment of the region states that China has implemented “wholesale policies, practices, and abuses … designed systematically to discriminate against and surveil ethnic Uyghurs … restrict their freedom to travel, emigrate, and attend schools, and deny other basic human rights of assembly, speech, and worship.”

The USA also takes a dim view of organisations that do business in Xinjiang, because it is felt that some companies use forced labour performed by Uyghurs held in internment camps. Last week, Washington banned eight Chinese companies for assisting China’s actions in Xinjiang.

Intel is aware of the situation in Xinjiang and, in its annual letter to suppliers [PDF]*, included the following text:

Our investors and customers have inquired whether Intel purchases goods or services from the Xinjiang region of China. Multiple governments have imposed restrictions on products sourced from the Xinjiang region. Therefore, Intel is required to ensure our supply chain does not use any labour, or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region.

Over the last few days, that section of the letter has gone viral in China. And the Chinese people are not happy because while Beijing does not deny it is doing extraordinary things in Xianjing, China’s government justifies those actions as necessary to prevent terrorism.

At this point of the story it’s time to meet Chinese pop star Wang Junkai, one of three members of a band called “TFBoys” that has topped China’s pop charts and scooped hundreds of millions in product endorsements.

Intel has hired Wang Junkai as brand ambassador for its Core silicon. But the star yesterday binned Intel, with a post on micro-blogging service Weibo stating that he and his management tried to have Intel clarify its position on Xinjiang but heard nothing back.

Citing the primacy of national interests over commerce, the star terminated his relationship with Intel.

That action appears to have moved Intel to act. The chipmaker has now posted a statement and Weibo post in which it expresses deep regret that the supplier letter has been considered an expression of Intel’s opinion.

“To clarify, the paragraph about Xianjing in the letter is only for expressing the original intention of compliance and legality, not its intention or position,” the new statement reads, after machine translation.

Intel can take some comfort from not being alone in having copped a backlash over its stance on Xianjing: Nike, H&M, Zara, and other fashion retailers have been boycotted in China for their refusal to use cotton from the region on grounds it may have been harvested by forced labour.

Those boycotts have made Chinese consumers keenly aware of their market power, so this incident could conceivably see some decide to shop with AMD or consider PCs powered by Huawei’s Kunpeng desktop board and 7nm Kunpeng 920 ARM v8 CPU.

China could also sanction Intel, although doing so may be counterproductive as Chipzilla has 17 facilities in the Middle Kingdom and employs over 10,000 locals. China’s big clouds are also big Intel customers, because while Arm and RISC-V are making great strides Intel’s Xeon remains the workhorse hauling bits in most mainstream data centres. And also, we presume, in the data centres that China’s government uses to run its affairs, including its surveillance state. ®

*Intel has revised the version of the supplier letter on its site to remove the reference to Xinjiang. The link in the body of this story is to a previous version that Intel offered for download.

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