Tesla has announced the opening of a new showroom in China’s Xinjiang region, where accusations of rights abuse have triggered global condemnation.
Many international brands have distanced themselves from allegations of abuses in Xinjiang, following reports of mass internment, forced labor, and dwindling birth rates among the region’s Muslim minorities.
But with the grand opening of its new dealership in the capital Urumqi, Tesla has become a rare Western brand to publicly embrace the controversial region and echo Beijing’s narrative painting Xinjiang as an exotic tourist destination.
In a post introducing the showroom on Dec. 31, the company praised Xinjiang’s beautiful landscape, rich history, and delicious food, adding that the new showroom and charging facilities would power Chinese drivers’ explorations into the region’s forests, deserts, and snow mountains.
“With camel bells gently ringing next to the ears,” it wrote, “Tesla on the Silk Road is connecting the present with the past in the singing wind.”
The company also posted photos from its opening ceremony on the microblogging site Weibo, showing lion dancing in the Xinjiang showroom and staff holding a placard that read “Tesla (heart) Xinjiang.”
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Chinese social media, some nationalists have interpreted the opening as a show of support for the Communist Party leadership. “Musk understands how to make money,” a commenter said on Weibo.
Consumers in China and the West have become increasingly divided over Xinjiang. Beijing said its tough security measures were aimed at eradicating extremism, and has denied any abuses. International rights groups and the U.S. government have labeled the treatment of minorities there as genocide. A member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2018 called Xinjiang “a sort of no-rights zone,” and the Biden administration recently banned imports from Xinjiang out of forced labor concerns.
Many Chinese domestic brands have actively promoted their Xinjiang products to please nationalistic shoppers and demonstrate their political loyalty. But foreign brands have been caught in a dilemma as they try to protect their reputation in both the international and Chinese markets.
A string of Western companies faced boycott calls in China for distancing themselves from Xinjiang. Intel apologized last month after its letter asking suppliers not to source from Xinjiang set off a nationalistic backlash. Walmart’s Sam’s Club came under fire following reports that Xinjiang products had been removed from its online shop. Many internet users posted photos of themselves canceling Sam’s Club memberships.
Although consumer brands such as KFC, Gucci, and Nike also have long operated outlets in Xinjiang, most international companies have avoided high-profile marketing campaigns since the mass detention of the region’s Muslim minorities garnered global attention in around 2017.
McDonald’s China, majority owned by state-owned conglomerate CITIC, also announced the grand openings of its first two stores in Xinjiang in 2020, pledging to bring the fast-food chain’s “classic delicacies” to the region and support its economic development.
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