China has reportedly issued a directive that prohibits central government officials and employees at state-owned enterprises from using iPhones. The ban, which has not been announced on official channels, is the latest salvo in the ongoing trade and tech war between Washington and Beijing.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that managers have been notifying staff of the ban via chat groups or meetings. On Friday, Bloomberg reported that the ban also covered government-backed agencies and state companies and would be expanded to a wide range of government-controlled organisations.
The ban is seen as part of China’s efforts to reduce its dependence on foreign technology and enhance its cybersecurity, as well as a retaliation for similar moves made by the US against Chinese tech companies.
Apple faces challenges in one of its biggest markets
China is a significant market and manufacturing center for Apple, accounting for around 19% of its overall revenue. The iPhone ban for government officials may have a negative impact on Apple’s sales and reputation in the country, especially as it faces increasing competition from domestic rivals such as Huawei.
Apple CEO Tim Cook made a high-profile visit to China in March, where he met with top officials and announced plans to invest $275 million in innovation and research centers in the country. Cook has also praised China’s efforts to combat climate change and promote digital health.
However, the latest restrictions on Apple could add to doubts about doing business in China, especially as the California-based tech giant, until recently, had a relatively good relationship with Beijing. Apple has also faced criticism from human rights groups for complying with China’s censorship and surveillance policies.
China and US view each other’s tech companies as security risks
The iPhone ban is not the first time that China has targeted US tech companies over alleged national security concerns. In June 2022, CNN reported that some Chinese government ministries had banned Teslas from entering their premises over fears that the electric vehicles could collect sensitive data through their cameras and sensors.
China has also imposed restrictions on other US tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, which have limited or no access to the Chinese market. China has also developed its own alternatives to these platforms, such as Baidu, WeChat, Weibo, and Alibaba.
The US, meanwhile, has also taken measures to limit the presence and influence of Chinese tech companies in its territory. The US has banned approvals of new telecommunications equipment from Huawei and ZTE since November 2022, citing that they pose “an unacceptable risk” to US national security. The US has also banned TikTok from devices issued by multiple institutions, including the House of Representatives, several states, and the military, over concerns that the Chinese government could access users’ data through its parent company, Bytedance.
The trade and tech war between China and the US shows no signs of abating, as both sides seek to protect their interests and assert their dominance in the global arena. The iPhone ban is another sign of the growing tensions and mistrust between the two superpowers.