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Indian Olympic Association Ditches China’s Li-Ning as Uniform Sponsor

The global backlash against China’s aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy is intensifying.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) announced Tuesday that it’s dropping Chinese sportswear maker Li-Ning as its official uniform sponsor just over a month before the Tokyo Games are expected to begin, citing the “sentiments of the people of the country.”

The move comes a week after the organization’s unveiling of the new kit was met with swift criticism amid strained relations between India and China. A Himalayan border skirmish that led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers last June sparked calls in India for a boycott of Chinese businesses and products.

Indian athletes, coaches and support staff will now wear unbranded apparel to the Games save for the official ceremonial kits, which are sponsored by domestic brand Raymond.

“We are aware of the emotions of our fans and we…have decided that we will withdraw from our existing contract with an apparel sponsor,” the IOA said in a statement.

The organization said it sought advice from the sports ministry before deciding to terminate its contract with Li-Ning, which began with the 2016 Rio Olympics and was set to conclude after the Tokyo Games.

“We are thankful for guidance by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in making this decision,” the IOA said. “We would like our athletes to be able to train and compete without having to answer questions about the apparel brand. As it is, they have all been challenged by the pandemic over the past year and a quarter, and we want them not [to be] distracted.”

Li-Ning did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a daily media briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministery spokesperson Wang Wenbin said he hoped that the “Indian side will be objective and fair in viewing our normal cooperation between the two countries rather than politicizing the issue.”

But India isn’t alone in distancing itself from China.

American lawmakers recently urged members of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) to ditch their endorsement deals with Chinese sportswear brands that employ cotton grown in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, warning that they could be seen as endorsing, even implicitly, potential forced labor widely believed to be occurring there.

In a letter sent to the organization earlier this month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said more than a dozen basketball players have maintained deals—or signed new ones—with Anta Sports, Li-Ning and Peak despite the labels declaring their full-throated support of Xinjiang cotton.

“We believe that commercial relationships with companies that source cotton in Xinjiang create reputational risks for NBA players and the NBA itself,” they wrote. “The U.S. State Department has determined that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, including the mass internment of over a million primarily Muslim ethnic minorities and the systematic use of forced labor to make goods for global export. The NBA and NBA players should not even implicitly be endorsing such horrific human-rights abuses.”

On Sunday, Finnish clothing manufacturer Reima said it’s severing ties with one of its Chinese contractors following a report from local news outlet Yle that linked the company to forced Uyghur labor in Xinjiang.

Haoyuanpeng Group, which operates a factory in Xinjiang, has been the beneficiary of several state-sponsored schemes that researchers say bear the hallmarks of modern slavery, Yle said.

“We have zero tolerance for human-rights violations, and in light of the allegations that have arisen, there is a risk that not all of our requirements will be met in the operations of the Haoyuanpeng Group,” Riikamaria Paakkunainen, communications at Reima, said in a statement, noting that the firm has a policy against sourcing raw materials and goods from Xinjiang. “Although our products have never been manufactured in [its] Xinjiang factory, we have decided to stop cooperating with this group of companies.”

The Yle report also implicated the Finnish arm of German discount retailer Lidl, which has sold outerwear manufactured by the Kashi Rising Garment in Xinjiang in recent years.

Lidl Finland, which says it prohibits any forced labor in its supply chain, will be pausing orders from the factory as it launches an investigation, according to Laura Kvissberg, its sustainability specialist.

“In all similar situations, we will first resolve any ambiguities with our suppliers and within the framework of our due diligence,” Kvissberg said in a statement. “We are in contact with our supplier so that we can reliably assess the situation. In this case, orders will not be placed for the time being.”

The United States took its loin-girding against China up a notch Tuesday when the Senate overwhelmingly approved of legislation that will dedicate $250 billion to scientific research and development over the next five years.

The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which folds in the earlier Endless Frontier Act, passed by a 68-32 vote. It will appropriate $52 billion in emergency funding for the semiconductor industry and authorize $81 billion in spending by the National Science Foundation.

“When all is said and done, the bill will go down as one of the most important things this chamber has done in a very long time—a statement of faith in America’s ability to seize the opportunities of the 21st century,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader who helped spearhead the bill, said ahead of the vote.

“The ambitions of this legislation are large, but the premise is simple,” he added. “If we want American workers and American companies to keep leading the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research and innovation, just as we did decades after the Second World War.”

Beijing hit out at the bill on Wednesday, saying that it fabricates a “so-called ‘China threat’” to interfere with China’s domestic affairs while preserving the United States’ global hegemony.

“At a time when the world is entering a period of turbulence and change, the practice of treating China as an ‘imaginary enemy’ at every turn is against the general trend of the world, unpopular around the world and doomed to fail,” the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, said in a statement.

Beijing has also repeatedly refuted accusations of genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities.

“There has never been genocide in Xinjiang or forced labor in the region’s cotton fields or any other sector. Such allegations are nothing but attempts to smear and demonize China, undermine security and stability in Xinjiang, weaken the local economy and contain China’s development,” Zhang Ping, consul general of the People’s Republic of China in Los Angeles, wrote in a letter published in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday. “Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism.”

A new analysis by a German researcher Adrian Zenz found, however, that Beijing’s birth control policies could prevent up to 4.5 million Uyghur births in southern Xinjiang within 20 years, “likely shrinking the number of Uyghurs as a whole.”

“These findings shed important new light on Beijing’s intent to physically destroy in part the Uyghur ethnic group by preventing births within the group,” Zenz wrote in Foreign Policy Tuesday. “Of particular concern is China’s perception of concentrated Uyghur populations as a national security threat. Other signs of genocidal intent under the U.N. framework are also clearly present.”

Even governments that have balked at labeling the ruling Communist Party’s actions as “genocide” cannot deny that, “at a minimum, there is a serious risk of genocide occurring,” he added. “We argue states are therefore obligated to act urgently on that knowledge.”

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