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Disney’s ‘Mulan’ Criticized for Filming in Xinjiang

Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

For months, the film has been facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan. The criticism of the movie this week also points to broader concerns about China’s aggressive efforts to assimilate minorities, leading to rapid cultural erosion.

Such fears drove protests last week that erupted in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region over a new education policy that would reduce the teaching of the Mongolian language in local schools in favor of Chinese, the language used by the dominant Han ethnic majority.

The latest backlash against Mulan began on Monday, when several social media users noticed that in the film’s credits, Disney thanked eight government entities in Xinjiang, a region in China’s far west that is home to the Uighurs. The predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority have lived for years under increasingly expansive surveillance and repression in the region.

The entities mentioned in the movie’s credits included the police bureau in Turpan, an ancient Silk Road city in eastern Xinjiang that has a large Uighur population. Last October, the Trump administration placed that bureau and other police organizations in Xinjiang on a blacklist that forbids U.S. companies from selling or supplying products to them.

In Washington, politicians began firing off fiery missives against Disney. Rep. Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, wrote on Twitter that “while the CCP is committing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, @Disney thanked four of the propaganda departments that are lying to the world about these crimes. It also thanked the Turpan Public Security Bureau, which is on the entity list for its role in these atrocities.”

The details of Disney’s partnership with the authorities in Xinjiang are unclear. The company did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Tuesday morning. Calls to the regional and local propaganda departments in Xinjiang and Turpan on Tuesday also went unanswered.

“Mulan” is scheduled to be released in theaters in China on Friday. But the timing of the preproduction and the filming suggest that the cast and crew may have been in Xinjiang after the government expanded its crackdown in the region in 2017.

Production for the movie, which is about a Chinese folk heroine who disguises herself as a man to stand in for her ailing father in the army, reportedly began in 2018, with filming taking place mostly in China and New Zealand.

The Chinese Communist Party has rejected international criticism of the internment camps in Xinjiang and has described them as job-training centers that are necessary to fight Islamic extremism. But leaked documents and testimonies by former detainees have described a ruthless and coercive environment in which physical and verbal abuse, as well as grinding indoctrination sessions, are widespread.

Human rights advocates and legal scholars have called the crackdown in Xinjiang the worst collective human rights abuse in China in decades.

Grant Major, the film’s production designer, recently told Architectural Digest that the production team spent months in and around Xinjiang to do research before filming. In September 2017, Niki Caro, the film’s director, posted a photo of a vast desert landscape on her Instagram with the location marked as “Asia/Urumqi.” Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang.

The area surrounding Turpan, in addition to being known for its vast, rugged landscapes, is also the site of a number of detention camps. That includes the earliest documented case of what China has called “transformation through education” targeting Muslims, from August 2013, said Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington who has studied Chinese policies toward the Uighurs.

In 2016, Zhu Hailun, a former deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, inspected Turpan’s “centralized re-education de-extremification” work, which Mr. Zenz said was an indication that “the region was an early leading example of such work.” Mr. Zhu was one of a group of Chinese officials sanctioned by the Trump administration in July for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“This film was undertaken with the assistance of the Chinese police while at the same time these police were committing crimes against the Uighur people in Turpan,” said Tahir Imin, a Uighur activist based in Washington. “Every big company in America needs to think about whether their business is helping the Chinese government oppress the Uighur people.”

Disney, which has long eyed China’s booming box office and growing middle class, has a history of running into political sensitivities in China. In 1996, the company was shut out of China’s film market after it angered officials with its backing of “Kundun,” Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film that is seen to be sympathetic to the Dalai Lama. In 2016, C. Robert Cargill, a screenwriter on “Doctor Strange,” said filmmakers had decided to scrub a central character of his Tibetan origins out of fear of treading on the Chinese government’s political sensitivities over Tibet.

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Credit…Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The release of Disney’s original “Mulan” animated film from 1998 was delayed for a year as a result. It was not until Disney bought the foreign distribution rights to two Chinese feature films, hired a Chinese performance troupe to participate in the European release of “Mulan” and floated the idea of opening a theme park in the country that Chinese officials finally approved the release of the film in February 1999. Later that year, Disney announced plans to build a park in Hong Kong.

Disney is just the latest American company to come under fire for its affiliation with Xinjiang. In July, an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time it had closed its Xinjiang academy, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts company, has also sold medical equipment used by the police in Xinjiang to collect DNA from Uighurs for social control purposes. Last year, the company, in the wake of criticism, said it would stop selling its gear to the authorities in Xinjiang.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan” began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of bowing to pressure from Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. The pro-democracy movement has become known as the #milkteaalliance, named after their shared love for the drink.

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Washington, and Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei.

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U.S. May Ban Cotton From Xinjiang Region of China Over Rights Concerns

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is weighing a ban on some or all products made with cotton from the Xinjiang region of China, a move that could come as soon as Tuesday as the United States looks to punish Beijing over alleged human rights violations, three people familiar with the matter said.

The potential ban, which could affect a wide range of apparel and other products, comes amid widespread concerns about the use of forced labor in Xinjiang, where China has carried out a crackdown against mostly Muslim minorities, including a campaign of mass detentions.

The scope of the order remains unclear, including whether it would cover all cotton products shipped from Xinjiang or China, or potentially extend to items that contain Xinjiang cotton and are shipped from third countries.

But any move to block cotton imports could have huge implications for global apparel makers. Xinjiang is a major source of cotton, textiles, petrochemicals and other goods that feed into Chinese factories. Many of the world’s largest and best-known clothing brands rely on supply chains that extend into China, including using cotton and textiles produced in Xinjiang, in the country’s far west.

Studies and news reports have documented how groups of people in Xinjiang, especially the largely Muslim Uighur and Kazakh minorities, have been recruited into programs that assign them to work in factories, cotton farms, textile mills and menial jobs in cities.

President Trump has taken a harder stance toward China as the presidential election approaches, blaming Beijing for allowing the coronavirus to spread around the world and ravage the American economy. The Trump administration has steadily ramped up its pressure on China in recent months, placing sanctions on dozens of companies and individuals over alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang and national security risks.

The new ban could produce a stampede out of China for major apparel brands. Amid a prolonged trade war and rising tensions between the United States and China, many companies have looked to relocate apparel supply chains to countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia. But some have found China’s quality production hard to replicate, or faced fierce competition for factory space.

The measure, called a withhold release order, would be issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agency has in the past issued such bans against individual companies it suspected of using forced labor in Xinjiang, but it has been weighing more sweeping action against a broader category of goods. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In July, the Trump administration placed several apparel companies on a blacklist that prevented them from buying American products, citing their use of forced labor in Xinjiang. The list included reported current or former suppliers to major international apparel brands, such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss. Several of the listed Chinese companies and the major international brands they supply pushed back against those measures, saying they had found no evidence of forced labor or other abuses in their supply chains.

Companies caught up in the debate over whether their products are made with forced labor say the opaque nature of Chinese supply chains can make it difficult to trace exactly where cotton is sourced.

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China’s National Security Law Wins Business Support

HONG KONG — The business world has largely fallen in line behind China’s campaign to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, including its support for a new national security law that many residents fear will hurt the former British colony’s status as a laissez-faire, freethinking city.

Beijing twisted some arms to win that support, hinting that it could use its huge clout to punish any global company or local tycoon who crosses it. But China has also won over some business hearts and minds — and a big new inflow of Chinese money into the territory has helped it make its case.

The money, totaling billions of dollars in new stock offerings and property deals by blue-chip Chinese companies in the past few weeks alone, have bolstered perceptions in the business world that Hong Kong will remain a deeply profitable place to do business for years to come. Some business leaders and bankers even endorse Beijing’s argument that the new law will help Hong Kong’s status as a business hub by helping the police crack down on sometimes violent antigovernment protests.

In Hong Kong’s gleaming skyscrapers and wood-paneled conference rooms, many bankers and deal makers discussed their views only on condition of anonymity — less for fear of angering Beijing, and more out of concern about wading into a broader geopolitical showdown between the United States and China.

“The business community is a cheerleader,” said Fraser Howie, an author and former banker who writes about China’s financial system. “They have compartmentalized that, somehow, ‘I do business, not politics.’”

Chinese lawmakers in Beijing passed the law early on Tuesday, though by midday its text still had not been released publicly. Officials have indicated that it will allow a security agency to be placed in Hong Kong to put out any signs of dissent in the territory. Hong Kong’s top official will also be given the power to appoint judges to hear certain security-related cases, raising alarms about the erosion of Hong Kong’s once coveted independent judiciary.

In retaliation, the Trump administration and some American lawmakers have threatened to revoke the trade privileges the United States extends to Hong Kong. On Monday, hours before Chinese officials approved the law, the Trump administration put new restrictions on American exports of defense equipment and some high-technology products to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong residents who broadly oppose Beijing’s clampdown have waited nervously for weeks to find out what the law says. In that period, new Chinese deals have reassured many in the business world that Hong Kong will remain a great place to make a deal.

JD.com, the Chinese e-commerce retailer, raised $3.9 billion last week by selling shares on Hong Kong’s stock exchange. Just two weeks before, NetEase, a Chinese online game company, raised $2.7 billion in its own Hong Kong offering.

Chinese renters have also helped the property market, which took a hit after the antigovernment protests began a year ago. Alibaba, the e-commerce giant and JD.com rival, and ByteDance, the parent company of the video app TikTok, recently signed leases for pricey new office space, according to industry insiders, who asked to remain anonymous because such deals are typically private. The companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Those deals follow others in previous months that amounted to endorsements by China Inc. in Hong Kong’s future. In November, when the protests reached a dramatic climax, Ping An, a state-controlled Chinese insurance giant, paid $5.4 billion for unbuilt property atop the high speed train station in the city’s West Kowloon district. That same month, Alibaba raised $11.2 billion in its own Hong Kong stock offering.

“It is true that some Chinese companies are making moves and expanding in Hong Kong, and I think this trend will continue,” said Nelson Wong, head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate services company.

There is little evidence that the money flows represent a targeted, Beijing-led charm offensive to make the national security law more palatable. Chinese state-owned companies and others from the mainland have been increasing their Hong Kong investments for years, eclipsing international money and local tycoons alike.

Chinese companies are selling shares in Hong Kong in part because regulators and lawmakers in the United States have taken a harder line on Chinese efforts to sell shares on Wall Street after a spate of accounting scandals. With Chinese companies looking elsewhere to raise money from international investors, Jefferies, the investment bank, has predicted nearly $600 billion could flow into Hong Kong over the next year.

“As a direct result of the enforcement landscape in the U.S., a lot of Chinese companies are reorienting their business practices to raise money in Hong Kong,” said Shaun Wu, a partner at the law firm Paul Hastings.

More broadly, China in recent years has encouraged its homegrown corporate champions to return home. Hong Kong regulators recently issued new rules that make it easier for Chinese companies to list in the city and give more control to the companies. Shareholder activists have criticized the moves as undermining Hong Kong’s legal and corporate governance system.

Big Chinese investors have replaced local tycoons and British trading houses as owners of iconic skyscrapers that dot Hong Kong’s skyline. Today, around 5 percent of these buildings are owned and occupied by Chinese firms, according to an estimate by Colliers.

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Credit…Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Investment bankers and deal makers say the continual flow of new Chinese money and other efforts have helped Beijing make its case that Hong Kong will remain competitive.

This month officials in Hong Kong made public a pledge by Chinese regulators to support Hong Kong’s currency if money suddenly fled the territory, making explicit a guarantee that the financial world had only assumed to be true.

When Chinese officials outlined their plan last month to force Hong Kong to adopt a security law, the panic drove its stock market to its steepest fall in five years. Since then it has regained lost ground, with some help from Chinese investors. An analysis by Bloomberg News showed mainland investment flows into the market have surged this year and accelerated after plans to impose the national security law were announced.

American retaliation remains a question mark. Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub depends on its access to the global financial system. Any move by Washington to limit Hong Kong’s access to American dollars could irreparably damage the territory.

So far, Trump administration warnings have focused instead on trade. Removing Hong Kong’s special status would subject goods moving through the territory’s ports to the same high tariffs and other barriers the United States imposes on mainland China. But Hong Kong’s status as a trade hub has declined, and bankers say American retaliation would have little impact on their work.

Business support for the new law is not full-throated. Much of it is still motivated by fear of Beijing.

Pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong and China’s state-controlled media have warned HSBC, the London-based bank with a history in Hong Kong that dates back to the Opium Wars, that Chinese banking customers could go elsewhere if it does not accede to Beijing’s wishes. It has warned Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s biggest airline, and global accounting firms that they need to keep their employees from joining the pro-democracy movement.

Some in the business world still worry that the law will ultimately put them in danger and have sped up their plans to move regional headquarters in the coming years. In one poll by the American Chamber of Commerce, about 40 percent of business people said they would consider moving in light of China’s national security law.

Some are already in the process of leaving. Luxury brands have shrunk their presence, scaling back both retail space and office space. The vacancy rate for commercial office space is 7.4 percent, its highest in Hong Kong since the depths of the global financial crisis in September 2009, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate group.

To assuage fears and stem a possible exodus, local financial authorities renewed a push this month to woo foreign investors. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the territory’s central bank, updated a so-called pitch book that it gives to global financial industry players that are considering moving to the city. The 17-page pamphlet emphasizes Hong Kong’s “common law system familiar to international investors.”

Among the top features authorities have promoted in the pamphlet is Hong Kong’s access to the mainland’s deep pool of money.

Hong Kong, it tells prospective investors in the city, is “by far the dominant gateway to China opportunities.”