A new showroom has opened in Xinjiang, the remote region where Chinese authorities are carrying out a campaign of forced assimilation against religious minorities that has become a public relations quagmire for Western brands.
The Austin, Texas-based electric car maker has started operations at its new showroom in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, the company said in a post Friday on its official account on the Chinese Twitter-like social media platform Weibo.
“On the last day of 2021, we meet in Xinjiang. In 2022, let us together launch Xinjiang on its electric journey!” Tesla wrote in the post, which was accompanied by photos from the opening ceremony that included traditional Chinese lion dances and people holding signs reading “Tesla (Heart of) Xinjiang.”
A China-based Tesla spokesperson could not be reached for comment on a public holiday.
Tesla is widely admired in China, and has rapidly expanded into the world’s most populous country. However, with its recent expansion, the automaker is risking entanglement in a forest of reputation that has recently entrapped other major US companies such as Walmart. company
and intel corp.
Researchers say authorities in Xinjiang have detained up to one million Uyghurs and members of other Turkish Muslim minorities in a network of internment camps as part of the government’s assimilation campaign, which they say also includes mass surveillance, forced labor and strict birth control restrictions. The US government, along with some lawmakers from other Western countries, said these policies amounted to a form of genocide.
Beijing has dismissed the accusation of genocide as fabricated and its campaign in Xinjiang as an innovative effort to counter religious extremism and terrorism.
In December, President Biden signed a new law banning most imports from Xinjiang over concerns about the use of forced labor. The White House has also imposed sanctions on several companies and individuals it accuses of participating in the absorption campaign.
In response to a question about Tesla’s new showroom, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said in a statement that she would not comment on the situation surrounding one of the companies, but generally said she believed the private sector should oppose the Chinese government. Human Rights Violations and Genocide in Xinjiang.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has criticized Western companies doing business in Xinjiang, urged Tesla to close its showroom in Urumqi. “No American company should do business in an area that is the focal point of a genocidal campaign targeting a religious and ethnic minority,” Abraham Hooper, director of national communications for the Washington-based advocacy group, said Monday.
Xinjiang is quickly becoming a critical test for foreign companies operating in China. Those who embrace the region risk regulatory problems and a reputational setback in their home markets, while those who avoid it face the wrath of the Chinese government and increasingly nationalist consumers.
Walmart has become the latest US company to get embroiled in political fallout as the year draws to a close, after Chinese consumer posts on social media claimed the retailer had stripped Xinjiang-made products from its store shelves and those in its stores. Sam’s Club wholesale chain.
China’s discipline watchdog has reprimanded the company for “stupidity and shortsightedness,” and Walmart has faced calls for an online consumer boycott. The company refused to comment.
US semiconductor company Intel apologized to Chinese consumers on December 23 after criticism exploded online over a letter the company sent to suppliers asking them to avoid sourcing products from Xinjiang.
Similar to Tesla, German automaker Volkswagen has faced criticism from lawmakers and human rights activists outside China over its decision to maintain a plant in Urumqi. The company has defended its presence in the region, saying its supply chain is free from forced labour.
Tesla, which sells Model S and Model 3 electric cars in China, has had a string of successes in the country even as other Western companies face challenges from tough domestic competition. It became the first foreign automaker to build a wholly-owned production facility in China after signing a deal to open a plant in Shanghai in 2018. The company’s sales in China continued to be resilient in the face of tight regulations and negative publicity about dealing with some quality issues last year.
Tesla delivered more than 930,000 vehicles globally in 2021, an 87% increase over the previous year, the automaker said Sunday. More than half of the vehicles the company will produce in 2021 will likely be made in Shanghai, Credit Suisse estimates..
With the opening of the Urumqi showroom, Tesla’s website shows that it now has stores in 30 regions and provinces in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
Tesla founder Elon Musk is personally popular in China for his entrepreneurial acumen and distinct style. For his part, the South African-born businessman praised the Chinese government for its efforts in tackling carbon emissions and boosting its economy, and predicted that China would become Tesla’s largest market in the long run.
Mr. Musk hit a few bumps in China. Chinese authorities recently filed a complaint with the United Nations after they said satellites launched by SpaceX, a company also founded by Mr. Musk, came close to colliding with a Chinese space station in July and October 2021.
On December 31, the day Tesla announced the opening of its showroom in Xinjiang, the Chinese market regulator said the automaker would recall about 200,000 cars sold in China and manufactured between January 2015 and December 2020. China’s State Administration of Market Regulation said on its website. About three-quarters of these vehicles were produced domestically, while the remaining Model S and Model 3 vehicles were imported, and the vehicles were recalled due to faulty front hood locks and problems with the rear-view cameras that could lead to accidents.
write to Lisa Lin at Liza.Lin@wsj.com
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