Chinese social media platforms erupted on Friday over allegations that Walmart Inc. had stopped selling items from Xinjiang at its members-only grocery chain Sam’s Club in China, raising the risk that the world’s biggest retailer will be swept into escalating tensions between China and the U.S. over the western province.
Posts of screenshots showing no search results for the word “Xinjiang” on Sam’s Club’s app went viral Friday on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform. Users claimed they had previously purchased items like Xinjiang apples and dates on the app and that the items had been de-stocked by Walmart.
The discussion came a day after U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law a bill banning goods made from the province.
It is unclear if Xinjiang-sourced goods were previously available for sale in Sam’s Club, or when they were taken down if so. Walmart representives in China and the U.S. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The topic was the top-trending item on Weibo as of Friday afternoon, with more than 170 million views and over 10,000 posts. Walmart is at risk of being ensnared by the rising consumer nationalism in China that’s dealt a blow to brands from Dolce & Gabbana to Hennes & Mauritz, sending sales plunging after the companies ran afoul of political sensitivities.
Xinjiang, where China is accused of human rights violations against the nation’s Uyghur minority, is a particularly sensitive topic for local consumers. Brands like H&M and Nike Inc. have been boycotted for saying they won’t use Xinjiang cotton, with the Swedish retailer being taken off local e-commerce platforms for its stance.
The bill signed Thursday by President Biden, which bans companies from selling goods in the U.S. made with Xinjiang components unless they can prove forced labor wasn’t involved, has already escalated tensions. Intel Corp. apologized to Chinese customers earlier this week after asking suppliers not to use any labor or products sourced from Xinjiang to ensure compliance with the U.S. law.
The stakes are high for Walmart, which is struggling to keep up in the highly competitive supermarket industry in China. Though it pioneered the hypermarket format in China decades ago, market share has remained flat amid pressure from local players like e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
Sam’s Club has been the bright spot for Walmart in China, where the chain is seen as a premium grocery destination selling mostly imported goods. The company plans to have 100 stores in the country by 2028, up from its current 33.