Tesla has opened a new sales and service center in the Xinjiang region of China, home to a Muslim population known as the Uighurs whom the UN and rights organizations have identified as an oppressed ethnic group.
In 2021, the United States, Britain and Canada said China was engaging in “forced labor, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilizations” and other abuses against Uighurs. Separately, the EU imposed sanctions on China for “arbitrary detention” of Uighurs.
China has repeatedly dismissed these allegations as “lies and misinformation.”
Tesla announced the move last week on Weibo, a popular social media platform in the country. The Wall Street Journal previously reported on Tesla̵[ads1]7;s move to Xinjiang.
A Dec. 31 post on Tesla’s Weibo account translated by CNBC said: “Urumqi Tesla Center officially opens #inanewdirection … As the first Tesla center in Xinjiang, this site integrates sales, service and delivery. It will help Xinjiang users enjoy the experience of one-stop service, which escorts Tesla car owners on their journey west. “
Another Weibo post on the same date said: “#inanewdirection Urumqi Tesla Center has officially opened! The last day of 2021 we meet in Xinjiang. In 2022, let’s begin Xinjiang’s journey to pure electric [vehicles]! Meet even more beauty! “
The hashtag phrases include puns in Chinese. The sign that spells “new” is found in the first half of the region’s name, Xinjiang.
Many social media users in China expressed gratitude in response to Tesla’s post. But the plot caused outrage in the West.
As NBC News previously reported in June 2021, Amnesty International researchers found that “Chinese authorities in the western Xinjiang region have gathered women and men – mainly Muslims from the Uighur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz ethnic minorities – and detained them in camps designed to get rid of those from terrorist or extremist tendencies since 2017.
“More than 1 million Uighurs and other Xinjiang minorities are believed to be being held in detention camps, where they will be forced to study Marxism, renounce their religion, work in factories and be abused,” according to human rights groups and first-hand reports. Beijing says these “retraining camps” provide vocational training and are needed to combat extremism. “
In response, U.S. senators recently approved a bill banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless companies can prove they were produced without forced labor.
The author of the bill, US Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Said of Tesla in a press release: “Nationless companies are helping the Chinese Communist Party cover genocide and slave labor in the region.”
Tesla did not respond to requests for comment. Tesla shares rose more than 13% on Monday after the company reported record-breaking vehicle deliveries for 2021.
Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company and his reusable rocket company SpaceX have both faced scrutiny in China.
For example, China sent a complaint to the UN last year revealing that SpaceX satellites had almost collided with China’s space station on two separate occasions in 2021.
With nearly 30,000 satellites and other debris believed to be in orbit around the planet, scientists have urged governments to share data to reduce the risk of catastrophic collisions. SpaceX has deployed nearly 1,900 satellites to service its Starlink broadband network, and plans to launch thousands more.
Prior to that, China mandated the recall of Tesla vehicles due to quality defects, and the Chinese government restricted the use of Tesla by certain government and military personnel for safety reasons.
But Tesla has also helped Beijing demonstrate that it is open to foreign companies, and that a foreign company can thrive in its relatively closed market.
In 2019, when Musk broke ground at Tesla’s Shanghai plant, the CEO said: “Someone who joins today as a junior engineer at Tesla China may one day become the CEO of Tesla worldwide … They might have my job a day.”
In July 2020, Musk posted on Twitter that “China is rocking” while the United States is full of “complacency and justification.”