Wearing a face mask walks by a Swedish fashion brand H&M store outlet
The ruling Communist Party criticized H&M for saying in March 2020 it would stop buying cotton from the northwestern Chinese region. The Swedish retailer joined other brands in expressing concern about reports of forced labor there.
The party newspaper Global Times also criticized statements by Burberry, Adidas, Nike, New Balance and Zara about Xinjiang as early as two years ago.
"For enterprises that touch the bottom line of our country, the response is very clear: don't buy!" China Central Television said on its social media account. It said the 'H' and 'M' in the Swedish name stood for Chinese words meaning lie and falsehood.
The attacks follow Monday's decision by the 27-nation European Union, the United States, Britain and Canada to impose travel and financial sanctions on four Chinese officials blamed for abuses in Xinjiang.
More than 1 million people in Xinjiang, most of them from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, have been confined to work camps, according to foreign researchers and governments. Beijing denies mistreating them and says it is trying to promote economic development and stamp out radicalism.
"The so-called existence of forced labor in the Xinjiang region is totally fictitious," said a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Gao Feng. He called on foreign companies to "correct wrong practices" but did not say what they were expected to do.
Celebrities including Wang Yibo, a popular singer and actor, announced they were breaking endorsement contracts with H&M and Nike.
H&M products were missing from China's most popular e-commerce platforms, Alibaba Group's TMall and JD.com. News reports said they were removed due to public criticism over its Xinjiang statement. The companies didn't respond to requests for comment.
Beijing often attacks foreign clothing, auto, travel and other brands for actions by their governments or to pressure companies to conform to its official positions on Taiwan, Tibet and other sensitive issues.
Companies usually apologize and change websites or advertising to maintain access to China, one of the biggest global markets. But Xinjiang is an unusually thorny issue. Western brands face pressure at home to distance themselves from possible abuses.
China's official outrage has focused on Europe, possibly because relations with the EU had been amicable amid rancor with Washington over trade disputes and accusations of Chinese spying and technology theft.
Official criticism of H&M reflected that tone of grievance at being hurt by a friend.
"How can H&M eat Chinese rice and then smash China's pot?" state television said in a commentary Wednesday.
Comments on the internet cited clothing brands Uniqlo of Japan and The Gap of the United States as other possible offenders. It was unclear how many of those accounts were members of the public and how many were run by the ruling party's vast propaganda apparatus.
The pop star Wang's announcement that he was quitting as a Nike "brand ambassador" didn't mention Xinjiang. It said he "firmly resists any words and actions that pollute China."
Others including singer and actress Song Qian, a former member of Korean pop group f(x) who also is known as Victoria Song, and actor Huang Xuan, who announced they would end endorsement contracts with H&M. Actress Tang Songyun said she was breaking ties with Nike.
Chinese athletic shoe brand ANTA announced it was pulling out of BCI, the industry cotton group.
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