Activists urge Tesla to close new Xinjiang showroom

·3 min read

BEIJING (AP) — American activists are appealing to Tesla Inc. to close a new showroom in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, where officials are accused of abuses against mostly Muslim ethnic minorities.

Tesla on Friday announced the opening of its showroom in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, and said on its Chinese social media account, “Let’s start Xinjiang’s all-electric journey!”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, an American organization based in Washington, D.C., on Monday urged Tesla and its chairman, Elon Musk, to close the showroom and “cease what amounts to economic support for genocide.”

Pressure on foreign companies to take positions on Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan and other politically charged issues has been rising. The ruling Communist Party pushes companies to adopt its positions in their advertising and on websites. It has attacked clothing and other brands that express concern about reports of forced labor and other abuses in Xinjiang.

“No American corporation should be doing business in a region that is the focal point of a campaign of genocide targeting a religious and ethnic minority,” the group’s communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, said in a statement.

A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from Austin, Texas-based Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

Activists and foreign governments say some 1 million Uyghurs and members of other mostly Muslim minorities have been confined in detention camps in Xinjiang. Chinese officials reject accusations of abuses and say the camps are for job training and to combat extremism.

On Friday, the ruling party's discipline agency threatened Walmart Inc. with a boycott after some shoppers complained online they couldn't find goods from Xinjiang in its Walmart and Sam's Club stores in China.

In December, Intel Corp., the world's biggest maker of computer chips, apologized for asking suppliers to avoid sourcing goods from Xinjiang after the state press attacked the company and comments online called for a boycott of its goods.

The United States has barred imports of goods from Xinjiang unless they can be shown not to be made by forced labor.

Asked about Tesla's situation, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she could not comment on a particular company, but that the private sector should oppose “human rights abuses and genocide in Xinjiang."

“The international community, including the public and private sectors cannot look the other way when it comes to what is taking place in Xinjiang," Psaki said.

China is one of Tesla’s biggest markets. The company’s first factory outside the United States opened in Shanghai in 2019.

Other foreign auto brands including Volkswagen, General Motors and Nissan Motor Co. have showrooms in Xinjiang operated by the automakers’ Chinese joint-venture partners. VW also operates a factory in Urumqi.

If Tesla and Musk are bowing to Chinese government pressure, it's in contrast to the U.S., where Musk has repeatedly clashed with government agencies. Last year he moved Tesla's headquarters to Austin from California after a spat with Alameda County health officials over reopening a factory at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

He also has fought with the Securities and Exchange Commission over a 2018 tweet claiming that he had financing to take Tesla private, when that funding was not secured. He and the company agreed to pay $20 million each to settle allegations that he misled investors. Musk branded the SEC the “shortseller enrichment commission,” distorting the meaning of its acronym. Short sellers bet that a stock price will fall.

Tesla also faces inquiries by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over its Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” systems. The company has said both are partially automated driver-assist systems despite their names.

The Associated Press

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