China’s Apple iPhone Ban Seems to Be ‘Retaliation,’ US Says

Beijing sees the iPhone as a ‘bargaining chip,’ a way to convince the United States to ease the Trump-era trade tariffs, an economic analyst said.
China’s Apple iPhone Ban Seems to Be ‘Retaliation,’ US Says
People walk past an Apple store in Beijing on Dec. 11, 2018. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

“We’re watching this with concern,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday.

“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.”

The White House’s comments came the same day Beijing made its first public response on the reported iPhone curbs.

“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.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing had instructed state employees and officials at some government agencies not to use iPhones and other foreign cellphones for work. Bloomberg reported that the iPhone ban would likely be extended to sensitive agencies and state-owned enterprises.

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.

An employee of a sensitive government department in Shenzhen city said the curbs on foreign technology have existed for a year. He told the publication that iPhones were banned from important meetings, while Tesla cars were restricted from entering government compounds. He asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.
Another government employee in coastal Shandong Province, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the publication that his department had received a similar restriction on using iPhones and Tesla at the workplace.

CCP Tightens Control Over Population

Outside 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.

He likened the iPhone ban to the CCP’s decades-long efforts to tighten control over its people. Beijing has already poured massive resources into building a nationwide surveillance system, cracking down on homegrown and foreign businesses, and punishing anyone it deemed threatening national security. The money Chinese authorities spent on policing the whole society has surpassed its national defense budget under paramount leader Xi Jinping, according to Nikkei Asia’s analysis based on official data.
To further strengthen its controls, Mr. Zhong noted that some Chinese cities, such as Changsha, have started to pay government employees using digital yuan.
What the CCP wants to achieve is “ubiquitous digital monitoring,” he said.


President 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.”

Chinese officials have questioned the Biden administration’s ‘sincerity,’ claiming that the United States is pushing for diplomatic talks while containing China.

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.

Last week, Apple’s shares suffered declines, resulting in a loss of about $200 billion in valuation, in response to reports regarding the iPhone ban in China, one of the American tech giant’s biggest markets.

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.”

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on April 20, 2023. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on April 20, 2023. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

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.”

President Biden’s chief trade official, Katherine Tai, has extended tariff exclusions on over 300 Chinese imports until the end of this year. Her office said in a statement that the extension will “allow for further consideration.”
Regarding the tariffs review in June, Ms. Tai told NPR: “I can’t tell you exactly where we’re going to end up precisely because we need to have the process run its course.

“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?”

Cheng Jing, Yi Ru, and Wang Roux contributed to this report.