The White House on Sept. 13 raised concerns about reports that Beijing ordered civil servants at some government agencies to stop bringing Apple's iPhones to the offices.
"Clearly, it seems to be of a piece of the kinds of aggressive and inappropriate retaliation to U.S. companies that we’ve seen from the PRC in the past," said Mr. Kirby, referring to China's official name, the People's Republic of China.
"The truth is, we don't have perfect visibility on exactly what they're doing and why."
Mr. Kirby called on the Chinese authorities to be "more transparent."
“China did not issue any law, regulation or policy document that bans the purchase and use of cellphones of foreign brands, such as iPhone," Mao Ning, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, told reporters during a briefing, according to an official translation.
Ms. Mao said Beijing had seen "media reports" about what she called "security incidents" of the device, without elaborating.
She noted that the regime "attaches great importance to cyber and information security," saying that phone companies operating in China must adhere to its laws and regulations.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Apple for comment.
Local officials from three provinces told The Epoch Times on Sept. 8 that they had already been told not to bring iPhones and foreign cellphones to important meetings. These officials, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal, noted there were no formal documents regarding that order.
An official from Yuanyang city, in central Hunan Province, told the publication that the restrictions on foreign cellphones like the iPhone were issued in recent months. The official did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.
CCP Tightens Control Over PopulationOutside observers say Beijing's latest move was not a surprise.
"The Chinese Communist Party [CCP] has been encouraging China's official agencies and state companies to replace foreign technologies, such as computers, operating systems, and software, with domestic ones that they can control," Zhong Shan, a China observer and network engineer who worked in Silicon Valley, told The Epoch Times.
LeveragePresident Joe Biden said that the restrictions on Western cellphones were part of the Chinese regime's efforts to change the rules of the game.
The president made the remarks when asked about Beijing's criticism of Washington at a press conference during his visit to Vietnam on Sept. 10.
"China is beginning to change some of the rules of the game, in terms of trade and other issues," he said, according to a press release. "And so, one of the things we talked about, for example, is that they’re now talking about making sure that … no one in the Chinese government can use a Western cell phone."
President Biden rejected the claim of isolating China, saying, "I am sincere about getting the relationship right."
But he pointed to Beijing's unfair trade practices.
Apple's experience illustrates the risks for foreign businesses that rely heavily on China as tension between Beijing and Washington is simmering, according to Davy J. Wong, a U.S.-based economic analyst. He described the administrative instruction from Beijing as "uncontrollable and unpredictable."
Mr. Wong noted the timing of the potential iPhone ban, which came amid ongoing discussion within the Biden administration on what to do with the U.S. tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.
The duties were imposed by former President Donald Trump as part of his administration’s efforts to combat the regime’s unfair trade practices that have cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.
President Biden has kept the tariffs, at least for now. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative's review of the Trump-era trade tariffs is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
It cannot be ruled out that Beijing sees the iPhone as a "bargaining chip," a way to convince the United States to ease the Trump-era trade tariffs, Mr. Wong told The Epoch Times, calling it "highly possible."
"I would say that one key question that's really important for us to consider is: what has China done in these last few years that would merit our changing this tariff structure?"