Beijing, Mar 25 (PTI) The Chinese government has officially supported the backlash from netizens against global fashion brands like H&M and Burberry, retaliating to Western sanctions on officials from Xinjiang province over alleged human rights violations and the boycott of cotton from the region.
“The Chinese people are attaching great importance to national dignity. It is not about nationalism, it is patriotism”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters, when asked about the severe criticism of top European and US fashion brands on social media.
The US has accused China of committing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, alleging that over 1 million Uyghurs are held in mass detention camps, officially called 'education camps'. China denies mistreating them and says it is trying to promote economic development and stamp out radicalism from the restive region.
On Monday, the US, EU, UK and Canada jointly announced travel and financial sanctions on four senior Chinese officials, blaming them for abuses in Xinjiang.
Beijing said it would retaliate by imposing unspecified penalties against European legislators and a German researchers who have published information about the detention camps.
State-run Global Times, in its report on Thursday, said Chinese netizens called for fashion retailer H&M to 'get out of Chinese market' after it came to light that the company said it has prohibited any type of 'forced labour' in its supply chain in Xinjiang, citing human rights concerns.
The report also alleged Burberry, Adidas, Nike and New Balance as having made such remarks about Xinjiang cotton as early as two years ago.
Chinese celebrities including Wang Yibo, a popular singer and actor, announced they were breaking endorsement deals with H&M and Nike.
Hua said the public opinion cannot be trampled upon, when asked to comment on the backlash against Swedish retailer H&M.
She said Xinjiang-sourced cotton is one of the world's best and the decision to not opt for it means losses for the concerned enterprises.
'We are open to welcoming foreign firms and personnel to live and work in China, but we are opposed to the malicious attacks and even practices aimed at damaging China's interests based on rumours and lies,' Hua added.
Separately, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said Beijing opposed external interference in Xinjiang.
“Chinese consumers have responded with concrete actions to the so-called business decisions made by individual companies based on false information,” he said.
“It is hoped that relevant companies will respect the laws of the market, correct wrong practices and avoid politicising commercial issues,” he said.
The list of foreign firms embroiled in the controversy continued to grow on Thursday, with American shoe brand Converse and apparel firm Phillips-Van Heusen, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, joining the ranks of brands being boycotted by Chinese consumers.
The European Chamber of Commerce said it would not comment on individual cases, but added that European firms were between “a rock and a hard place” because of “increased politicisation of business”, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
China produces 22 per cent of the world's cotton, of which 84 per cent comes from Xinjiang, according to a report by the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
In his paper, German researcher Adrian Zenz has alleged cotton produced in Xinjiang involves forced labour, with Uygur workers being transferred away from their homes to pick cotton.
China has vehemently denied these claims. PTI KJV IND AKJ IND