Intel Corp. issued an apology on Thursday after asking suppliers to avoid purchasing goods from the Xinjiang region of China.
« We apologize for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public, » Intel said in its Thursday statement. « Intel is committed to becoming a trusted technology partner and accelerating joint development with China. »
In a letter to suppliers sent this month, Intel asked suppliers to abide by the current U.S. regulations and boycott goods being issued from the region. The Chinese government has been accused of detaining and abusing the region’s Muslim Uyghur population for months.
In response to the letter, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that Intel should « respect facts and tell right from wrong. »
Intel plays a significant role in the country’s technological development. The company has a chip factory in the northeast city of Dalian and a research facility in Beijing. Processor chips are the primary ones used to create the country’s computers and smartphones, with silica often being produced in Xinjiang. Although China has attempted to make its own chip industry, it continues to rely on Intel’s chips to manufacture goods.
Tension over Xinjiang is rising as activists call for a boycott of February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, a prestige project for the ruling party. The White House says the United States won’t send dignitaries. Beijing on Wednesday barred four members of a U.S. government religious freedom panel from China in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Washington on two Xinjiang leaders.
Other companies including retailer H&M and shoe brand Nike have been targeted for criticism and calls for boycotts after expressing concern about Xinjiang or saying they would stop using materials produced there.
Pop singer Wang Junkai, also known as Karry Wang, announced Wednesday he was pulling out of a deal to act as « brand ambassador » for Intel’s Core line of processor chips.
Wang’s move is a « fresh warning siren to Intel and other foreign companies that seek to undermine China’s core interests while also trying to profit from the vast Chinese market, » said Global Times, which is known for its nationalistic tone.
Other singers, actors and other celebrities have broken ties with foreign brands that were targeted for criticism over Xinjiang, giving up millions of dollars in income to protect their careers from official retaliation.
Criticism by state media might prompt consumers to look at products based on chips from other suppliers. But there are few alternatives. They include Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of the United States for chips in desktop PCs and servers and Britain’s Arm Ltd. for smartphones.
Intel, headquartered in Santa Clara, California, reported 2020 profits of $23.7 billion on sales of $77.9 billion.
Smartphones and other products are designed to work with the characteristics of a specific chip from one supplier. Switching would require a design overhaul and testing.
Trying to switch to alternate suppliers would be especially hard and costly at a time when a global shortage of chips due to the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting production of products from smartphones to cars.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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