Xinjiang Party Secretary Replaced; Walmart, Intel Hit by Nationalist Anger

Chen Quanguo, the Xinjiang Party Secretary sanctioned by the U.S. last year for his role in the mass internment of Uyghurs, has been replaced. Former Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui has taken over his role. At The Guardian, Vincent Ni reported on the reshuffle and its potential implications:

The state-owned Xinhua news agency said in a brief announcement on Saturday that Ma Xingrui, the governor of the coastal economic powerhouse Guangdong province since 2017, had replaced Chen Quanguo as the Xinjiang party chief. Chen will move to another role.

The change came amid a wider reshuffle ahead of next year’s 20th party congress, scheduled for the autumn. It is not clear whether the move signals a rethink in China’s overall approach to Xinjiang. Beijing would be sensitive to any interpretation that it was bowing to international pressure.

Some Chinese observers have noted Chen may be promoted further during the party congress. Others say his replacement, Ma, may focus more on the region’s economic development. [Source]

Chen, a Politburo member, was appointed Xinjiang Party Secretary in 2016 after holding the same position in Tibet from 2011, where he was associated with an aggressive security regime targeting local unrest. His new position, if there is one, has not been announced, and it remains unclear whether his departure from Xinjiang may signal any easing of the harsh security crackdown in the region:

Ma Xingrui is a consummate technocrat, “an actual rocket scientist” who once headed China Aerospace Science & Technology Corporation, which has become a notable launchpad for promotions in recent years. Nikkei Asia speculates that Ma’s promotion will pave the way for his appointment to the Politburo. As pointed out by Lizzi C. Lee of Chinese media outlet Wall St TV, Chen and Ma’s first days in office were quite different. Chen stressed “stability” in conference calls, while Ma toured sites related to economic development:

For now, the region remains an area of international concern. Credible allegations of forced labor plague a myriad of Xinjiang-made products, prompting the U.S. to pass an import ban earlier this month. A number of international companies have attempted to weed Xinjiang products out of their supply chains to avoid U.S. sanctions. This in turn has sparked nationalist boycotts of foreign retailers. H&M was infamously mobbed online and boycotted offline after stating its “deep concern” about forced labor in Xinjiang’s huge cotton industry. The latest target of a nationalist boycott is American retailer Walmart. Would-be digital sleuths found that Sam’s Club (a Walmart subsidiary) listed Xinjiang-sourced products, mostly fruits, as out of stock in the wake of the U.S. ban on Xinjiang goods. Screenshots of the search results for “Xinjiang” on Sam’s Club app went viral, drawing over 170 million views on Weibo. At The Wall Street Journal, Liza Lin reported on the latest nationalistic boycott of a foreign conglomerate:

Walmart, for its part, was dragged into the controversy on Friday after users wrote on domestic social-media platforms—including Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, and Zhihu, a Quora-like question-and-answer forum—that they were unable to find products typically sourced from Xinjiang on online stores operated by Walmart and Sam’s Club China. Sam’s Club is Walmart’s members-only wholesale retail chain.

[…] The Wall Street Journal found no Xinjiang product listings on Walmart and Sam’s Club’s China e-commerce stores. However, a visit to a Walmart store in Beijing’s central business district on Saturday found red dates sourced from Xinjiang still stocked on its shelves.

[…] The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said in September that 30% of retail and consumer companies polled in its most recent business survey cited public backlash and consumer boycotts as a top concern, the highest among the major industries covered by the business lobby. More than one-tenth of the companies said they had reduced planned investments in China because of concerns about consumer boycotts. [Source]

Walmart’s competitors wasted no time touting the Xinjiang products they had on display, in an apparent attempt to use nationalism to gobble Walmart’s marketshare:

U.S. chipmaker intel found itself in a similar position to Walmart after it advised suppliers to abstain from sourcing products from Xinjiang in the wake of the U.S.’s import ban. Bloomberg News reported that Intel, having decided “prudence” is the better part of valor, apologized to Chinese consumers:

The chipmaker sent a letter asking suppliers not to use any labor or products sourced from Xinjiang “in order to ensure compliance with U.S. legal requirements,” it said in a WeChat statement Thursday. The company had no other intention and did not mean to express a position on the matter, according to the statement.

“We thank everyone for raising their questions and concerns and respect the sensitivity of the issue in China,” Intel said. “As a multinational company, we operate in a constantly evolving and complex global environment and should adopt a prudent attitude. For causing trouble to our esteemed Chinese customers, partners and the general public, we express our sincere apologies.”

Intel’s apology comes after social media users this week seized on the issue to criticize the U.S. firm. The lead singer of TFBoys — one of China’s most popular boy bands — Wang Junkai said it will terminate all partnerships with the U.S. company immediately, according to a statement by his studio Wednesday. The studio said it had repeatedly asked Intel to “express a correct stance,” but the chipmaker had yet to respond.

“National interests trump everything!” the studio wrote in its post. [Source]

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