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Intel accused of ‘cowardice’ after removing Xinjiang references over China backlash

US chipmaker Intel has deleted references to China’s Xinjiang in its annual letter to suppliers, after it had earlier asked them to avoid the region.

The move comes weeks after the world’s largest chipmaker was forced to apologise in China after it faced a backlash over the letter it sent on 23 December asking suppliers not to source products or labour from Xinjiang over allegations of human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the region.

Suppliers were “required to ensure that its supply chain does not use any labour or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region” following restrictions imposed by “multiple governments”, the letter said.

The letter had come after the US passed a bill banning imports from the Xinjiang region that also required companies to prove that imports were not produced with forced labour from the region.

In a review of Intel’s letter published on its website on 11 January, this paragraph was found to be missing, reported Reuters.

The letter now prohibits “any human trafficked or involuntary labour such as forced, debt bonded, prison, indentured, or slave labour throughout your extended supply chains”.

The reference to Xinjiang was removed after the company issued an apology on 23 December.

In its apology, the company said it regretted “the trouble” and that the letter caused “concerns among our cherished Chinese partners.”

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal on Monday, the company said it “recently issued a statement in China to address concerns raised by our stakeholders there regarding how we communicated certain legal requirements and policies with our global supplier network”.

Republican senator Marco Rubio, who had introduced the bill banning imports from the Chinese region, hit out at Intel after reports of the company deleting references to Xinjiang in its letter.

“Intel’s cowardice is yet another predictable consequence of economic reliance on China,” said Mr Rubio in a statement on Monday.

“Instead of humiliating apologies and self-censorship, companies should move their supply chains to countries that do not use slave labour or commit genocide.”

“If companies like Intel continue to obscure the facts about US law just to appease the Chinese Communist Party then they should be ineligible for any funding under the CHIPS [Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors] Act.”

China has been facing criticism from human rights groups over alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang through campaigns of mass sterilisation and forced labour practices. The UN has repeatedly expressed concern over conditions for Uyghurs that critics say amount to cultural genocide.

The country has denied any claims of wrongdoing and had cautioned Intel against making such accusations last month.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian had asked Intel to “respect facts and tell right from wrong.”

“So-called forced labour and other allegations on Xinjiang are completely lies concocted by anti-China forces,” Mr Zhao had said.

The company also faced backlash from Chinese state media as well as social media platforms.

Other global companies like H&M and Nike have also faced boycott calls in China over their statements on Xinjiang.

Last week Tesla faced appeals to close a showroom it opened in the region.

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