It’s China vs. Walmart, Latest Western Brand Entangled in Human Rights Dispute

A New Year’s Eve salvo from Beijing accusing Walmart Inc. of “stupidity and shortsightedness” has driven home a stark challenge for Western businesses in one of their most promising markets: As governments ratchet up accusations of human-rights violations in China, officials there are pressuring foreign companies to take China’s side.

Western businesses have suffered through various waves of geopolitical headwinds as they have sought to do business in the world’s most populous country. But the experiences of Walmart and semiconductor giant Intel Corp. in recent weeks—and a consumer backlash against big brands such as H&M Hennes and Mauritz AB and Adidas AG last year—demonstrate a new willingness by Beijing to confront criticism by Western governments with counterattacks on Western companies.

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