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China removes H&M from internet over Xinjiang backlash

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HONG KONG (AP) – H&M in China has disappeared from the internet as the government cracked down on footwear and clothing brands and on Friday imposed sanctions on British officials over alleged abuses in Xinjiang.

H&M products were missing from major e-commerce platforms, including Alibaba և JD.com, after state media called for a boycott of the Swedish retailer’s decision to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang. This undermines H & M’s ability to reach customers in a country where more than one-fifth of purchases are online.

Shockwaves spread to other brands as dozens of celebrities canceled deals with Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Uniqlo and Lacoste after state media criticized the brands over Xinjiang concerns to report

Tencent, which operates games և the popular WeChat messaging service, has announced that it is removing Burberry-designed clothing from the popular mobile game.

In a high-tech version of ventilation used by other authoritarian regimes in China to delete political enemies from historical photos, about 500 H&M stores in China did not appear on the Didi Chuxing app or Alibaba և Baidu-based mapping services. , Its smartphone app has disappeared from app stores.

It was not yet clear whether the companies had received orders to cancel H & M’s online presence, but it is expected that Chinese companies will join the ranks without telling them. Regulators have broad powers to punish companies that do not support official policies.

The ruling Communist Party’s Youth League launched an attack on H&M on Wednesday after the European Union decided to join the United States, Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials accused of abusing Xinjiang.

On Friday, the Chinese government announced sanctions against nine British institutions and four institutions. They are not allowed to visit China or do business with its citizens’ institutions.

According to foreign government researchers, more than 1 million members of Uyghurs, other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, have been confined to prisons in Xinjiang. Authorities there are accused of using coercive labor and enforcing birth control measures.

The Chinese government rejects allegations of abuse, saying the camps are designed to train workers to support economic development and fight Islamic extremism.

State media accused H&M of other brands of improper profits from China while criticizing it. This prompted Chinese retailers and Internet companies to stay away from Swedish retailers, although other brands were still available on e-commerce platforms.

“It’s a form of self-preservation,” said Shan Rein, head of the China Market Research Group in Shanghai.

Raine said anger at H&M was the worst he had ever seen against a foreign brand. The companies are particularly sensitive because it comes at a time when Chinese antitrust regulators are tightening control over Internet operators, he said.

“If they do not try to criticize, they will also have problems,” Raine said.

The Communist Party often pressures foreign clothing, travel, and other brands in connection with the actions of their governments, or attempts to force them to accept their positions on other sensitive issues in Taiwan and Tibet.

Much of this is due to the fact that China is one of the fastest growing markets in the world of fashion, electronics and other consumer brands.

China is H & M’s fourth largest market after Germany, after the United States և after Britain և accounted for about 5% of 2020 revenue.

Greater China is Nike Inc.’s third largest market after North America և Europe.

At the end of February, Greater China accounted for 23% of Nike’s global sales, compared to 36.5% for North America. But China’s revenue rose 51 percent more than a year ago as consumer demand recovered from the coronavirus, while North American sales fell 10 percent.

There were only a few customers at H&M in Shanghai on Friday afternoon.

“I was not aware of the reaction. “I came here to buy a coat for the spring because H&M is affordable and stylish,” said Wang Ewing, a 52-year-old retiree who shopped at the store.

“I’ll still buy something because I’m already here, but if this reaction really lasts, I’ll buy less from this brand.”

A salesman, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said buyers were much smaller than usual on Friday. The seller said he understood why consumers were angry, but said that if the reversal continued, it would damage the livelihoods of local employees of the targeted brands.

Two outfits of Burberry-designed characters have been removed from Tencent’s popular Kings mobile game, the game’s social media game said on Thursday. There was no reason for that.

Celebrities, including at least one Uyghur, have announced that they are completing foreign footwear and clothing branding deals.

Xinjiang actress Gyulnazar said she was severing ties with Puma. On his social media account, Gulnazar said he “strongly resists all attempts to discredit China.”

Hong Kong singers Eason Chan and Angelabab have announced that they are severing ties with Adidas. Actress ou ou Dongyun split from Burberry. Actors Ni Ni և ing ing Boran split from Uniqlo.

Song Kia, a singer նախկին former member of the Korean pop group f (x), also known as the Victoria Song, և actor Huang Xuan had earlier announced that they were finalizing a deal with H&M.

In Beijing, pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Yip said in a Twitter post that she would stop buying one of her favorite brands, Burberry.

“I will stand by my country to boycott companies that spread lies about Xinjiang,” he said.

Not all brands have escaped the sources of Xinjiang.

The South Korean sneaker brand FILA said on Friday that the company was buying cotton from Xinjiang and would continue to do so.

FILA China said on its social media account that it has begun the process of coming out of a better cotton initiative, an industry group that promotes environmental and labor standards.

Last year, H&M announced that it would no longer use Xinjiang cotton, citing the BCI’s move to suspend cotton licensing from the region, as it was difficult to determine how it was produced.

It was unclear why the party targeted H&M, whose concerns about Xinjiang were similar to those of other companies. But Chinese leaders can see that their home country, Sweden, is under less pressure because of its small size.

Relations between Beijing and Stockholm have been strained since 2015, when a Chinese-born Swedish publisher disappeared from Thailand and ended up in China. The Chinese ambassador angered the Swedish government by referring to him as a “lightweight boxer” in a television interview.


McDonald reports from Beijing. Associated Press researchers in Beijing Yu Bing Յ Shanghai Chen Xi contributed.

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