an alliance to curb China’s influence, Beijing, emboldened by its success in curbing the coronavirus outbreak at home, is pushing back hard against what it perceives as hypocrisy.

“It might get more heated,” said Jörg Wuttke, the president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, in an email. More European companies are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place, he said. “Everybody has to service their domestic crowd.”

But for many of these companies, the issue is more complicated than a matter of managing public relations.

To obtain cotton, the companies almost certainly need to get it from Xinjiang, which produces 87 percent of the material in China. Roughly one in five cotton garments sold globally contains cotton or yarn from Xinjiang.

But in January, the Trump administration announced a ban on imports of cotton from Xinjiang, as well as all products made with those materials, putting pressure on brands to check their supply chains. Rights groups such as the Uyghur Human Rights Project have also been pushing American lawmakers to enact sweeping legislation that would block imports from Xinjiang, unless companies can prove that their supply chains are free of forced labor.

Ms. Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, on Thursday denounced the accusations of forced labor, saying Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang provided employment opportunities to lift people out of poverty.

“The accusation of ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang is entirely a lie concocted by certain anti-China forces,” she said. “The purpose is to discredit China’s image, undermine Xinjiang’s security and stability and impede China’s development.”

Communist Youth League, an influential Communist Party organization, and state media highlighted a statement that the company made eight months ago setting out its concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang. That prompted Chinese internet users to call for a boycott.

The company responded on Wednesday by saying its statement last year on Xinjiang did not “represent any political position.” That made internet users, who were baying for an apology, only more furious.

On Thursday, a mall in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, shut an H&M outlet, urging the company to apologize formally to people in the region. In the southwestern city of Chengdu, workers dismantled the company’s sign from a store.

“I don’t expect this to die down,” said Surya Deva, an associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong and a member of the United Nations working group on business and human rights. “This is a different trajectory and a different era.”

Justine Nolan, a professor in Sydney at the faculty of law and justice at the University of New South Wales, said it was also an opportunity for foreign companies to demonstrate their support for human rights.

“They are now being put to the test,” she added. “This is the red line for them — and it’s not an issue that they can afford to be halfhearted about.”

Reporting and research were contributed by Coral Yang, Claire Fu, Chris Buckley and Elsie Chen.

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