Intel found itself on the back foot in Washington and Beijing on Thursday after issuing a public apology over a letter to its suppliers referencing US sanctions targeting human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region

Photo: Michael Wyszomierski via Flickr.

The conflict follows passage of a US law that bans virtually all imports from Xinjiang in response to concerns over the use of forced labor and other human rights abuses against an ethnic minority.

The semiconductor giant told suppliers earlier this month to avoid any products from the region in order to comply with the restrictions.

But following public outcry in China, the chipmaker on Thursday expressed regret for the comments in a statement posted on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform.

“Our original intention was to ensure compliance with American laws,” Intel said. “We apologize for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public.”

President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act into law on Thursday, and Intel’s apology drew a skeptical response from the White House.

“We believe the private sector and the international community should oppose the PRC’s weaponizing of its markets to stifle support for human rights,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“We also think that American companies should never feel the need to apologize for standing up for fundamental human rights or posing repression.”

A statement from Intel’s US staff made clear the company would follow US law.

A verified drone shot from 2019 of Uighur prisoners being transferred by train. File photo: Weibo.

“On December 23 we issued a statement in China to address concerns raised by our stakeholders there regarding how we communicated certain legal requirements and policies with our global supplier network,” Intel said.

“We will continue to ensure that our global sourcing complies with applicable laws and regulations in the US and in other jurisdictions where we operate.”

The pressure on Intel comes as US companies grapple with the new sanctions, which ban the import of all goods from the region unless companies offer verifiable proof that production did not involve forced labor.

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