,The Chinese e-commerce site Taobao displays the message 'Sorry, no related items were found' when searching for products from clothing retailer H&M, as seen on a computer screen in Beijing, Friday. — AP
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HONG KONG: H&M disappeared from the Internet in China as the government raised pressure on shoe and clothing brands and announced sanctions Friday against British officials in a spiralling fight over complaints of abuses in the Xinjiang region.
H&M products were missing from major e-commerce platforms including Alibaba and JD.com following calls by state media for a boycott over the Swedish retailer's decision to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang. That hurts H&M's ability to reach customers in a country where more than a fifth of shopping is online.
Shockwaves spread to other brands as dozens of celebrities called off endorsement deals with Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Uniqlo and Lacoste after state media criticised the brands for expressing concern about Xinjiang.
Brands are struggling to respond to pressure abroad to distance themselves from abuses without triggering Chinese retaliation and losing access to one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets. That pressure is rising as human rights activists are lobbying sponsors to pull out of the Beijing Winter Olympics planned for February 2022.
Tencent, which operates games and the popular WeChat message service, announced it was removing Burberry-designed costumes from a popular mobile phone game.
In a high-tech version of the airbrushing used by China and other authoritarian regimes to delete political enemies from historic photos, H&M’s approximately 500 stores in China didn’t show up on ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing or map services operated by Alibaba and Baidu. Its smartphone app disappeared from app stores.
It wasn’t clear whether companies received orders to erase H&M’s online presence, but Chinese enterprises are expected to fall in line without being told. Regulators have broad powers to punish companies that fail to support official policy.
The ruling Communist Party's Youth League launched attacks Wednesday on H&M following the European Union's decision to join the United States, Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials blamed for abuses in Xinjiang.
On Friday, the Chinese government announced penalties against nine Britons and four institutions. They are banned from visiting China or having financial transactions with its citizens and institutions.
More than one million members of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been confined to detention camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. Authorities there are accused of imposing forced labour and coercive birth control measures.
The Chinese government rejects complaints of abuses and says the camps are for job training to support economic development and combat Islamic radicalism.