Uyghurs: after H&M, Nike in turmoil in China

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Beijing | After H&M, the American sports goods giant Nike became the target of a media storm in China on Thursday after its boycott of cotton from Xinjiang, amid allegations of “forced labor” imposed on Uyghurs.

Xinjiang (northwest) has long been hit by attacks attributed to separatists or Uyghur Islamists. The authorities have imposed draconian police surveillance there for several years.

According to studies by American and Australian institutes, at least a million Uyghurs have been interned in “camps” and some subjected to “forced labor”, especially in the region’s cotton fields.

China categorically denies and claims that these reports are biased. She ensures that the “camps” are “vocational training centers” intended to provide employment to the population to keep it away from extremism.

After the publication in early 2020 of this study by the Australian institute ASPI on “forced labor”, Nike expressed “concern” and pledged not to buy cotton from Xinjiang – a major world production area.

This statement has resurfaced in recent hours on the Chinese social network Weibo, after the imposition on Monday by the European Union and other Western powers of sanctions against China for its treatment of Uyghurs.

Beijing denounced “lies” and sanctioned European personalities and organizations in retaliation, opening the door to other potential responses.

The controversy targeting Nike growing, an actor and an actress very well known in China, Wang Yibo and Tan Songyun, announced Thursday cut their ties with the brand, of which they were the ambassadors of image.

“The interests of the country come first. We are strongly opposed to all malicious actions aimed at smearing or spreading rumors about China, ”said the agency in charge of Ms. Tan’s interests.

On Wednesday, the ready-to-wear giant H&M was the first to suffer the wrath of several Chinese media and Internet users, because of its desire to no longer use cotton from Xinjiang – again manifested last year.

The Swedish brand’s products were withdrawn from major online shopping sites in China on Wednesday.

H&M China said it took “no political position” and remained committed to the country for the long term.

Uighurs, mostly Muslim and speaking a Turkic language, make up just under half of Xinjiang’s 25 million people.