SHANGHAI – Tesla’s announcement that it will open a showroom in Xinjiang has drawn criticism from US rights and trade groups, making it the latest foreign company to be embroiled in tension related to the far-western region of China.
Xinjiang has become a major source of conflict between Western governments and China in recent years, as UN experts and human rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities, were held in camps there.
China denied allegations of forced labor or other abuses, saying the camps provide vocational training and companies should respect their policies there.
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The US electric car manufacturer announced the opening of the showroom in Xinjiang’s regional capital, Urumqi, on its official Weibo account last Friday. “We will meet in Xinjiang on the last day of 2021,” the post said.
On Tuesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest US Muslim advocacy group, criticized the move, saying Tesla supported “genocide.”
The US has labeled China’s treatment of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang as genocide. The US and several other countries are planning a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.
“Elon Musk has to close Tesla’s showroom in Xinjiang,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations said on his official Twitter account, based on the founder of Tesla.
Similar criticism came from a US trade group, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, and US Senator Marco Rubio.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The car manufacturer operates a factory in Shanghai and is building up production there while sales are increasing in China.
Tensions between the West and China around Xinjiang have stumbled a number of foreign firms in recent months as they attempt to balance western pressures with China’s importance as a market and supply base.
In July, Swedish fashion retailer H&M reported a 23 percent decline in local currency sales for the March-May quarter after being hit by a consumer boycott in March for publicly declaring that it does not source products from Xinjiang.
US chipmaker Intel faced similar calls last month after telling its suppliers not to source products or workers from Xinjiang, leading it to speak out about “the problems facing our respected Chinese customers, partners and have caused the public “to apologize.
Although some have tried to reduce their supply chain exposure in the region, especially with Washington banning imports like cotton from Xinjiang or blacklisting Chinese companies that supported Beijing’s policies there, many foreign brands do business there.