Propaganda officials quietly celebrated in Beijing two days after a Chinese social-media post helped ignite a frenzy of outrage against Western clothing brands, according to people familiar with the matter, in what they saw as a victory in a new effort to inoculate China against criticisms from the West.
The furor that scorched Hennes & Mauritz AB’s H&M , Nike Inc., Adidas AG and other boldface names of global retail, threatening them with lost revenues in one of the world’s most lucrative consumer markets, began with a message from a blogger on China’s Twitter -like Weibo service on March 23, according to an analysis by Doublethink Lab, a Taipei-based nonprofit that has researched online Chinese state disinformation. China fanned the flames the next day through state-media outlets and Communist Party-affiliated social-media accounts.
The campaign, directed at H&M and other companies over their expressions of concern about forced labor and discrimination against the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s remote Xinjiang region, came as Beijing draws lessons from what it considers a successful fight with the West over another hot-button issue, Hong Kong.
At a meeting late last month officials from China’s Foreign Ministry and the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department raised the example of Hong Kong, and talked about the need to push back on Xinjiang as international attention has shifted to the Uyghurs, according to people briefed on the proceedings.
After pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong in 2019, Beijing authorities initially censored the news on the Chinese internet before reversing course and promoting protest images as evidence of an alleged plot by Western powers to destabilize China. The Communist Party has since cemented its grip on the former British colony, winning support at home despite opposition from Western governments.