Mao didn’t elaborate on whether the “incidents” in question were well-reported recent security vulnerabilities from out-of-date software or a potentially more serious Chinese government concern about the safety of the devices.
But the vague comment is likely to feed a wave of concern about Apple’s relationship with China, which manufacturers most of its iPhones — and where, by some estimates, it now sells more of the phones than in the United States.
News last week of a potential iPhone ban for Chinese government workers knocked $200 billion off the company’s value in two days.
In meetings and private chat groups, superiors at Chinese central government agencies told officials not to bring iPhones or other foreign-branded devices into work, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The reported decision to widen already existing restrictions on the use of foreign-made technology in some government departments comes as the Chinese Communist Party has urged Chinese technology giants to keep pace with international leaders like Apple.
Beneath the drive to become a leader in the technologies of the future is Beijing’s desire to be self-sufficient in critical technologies like microchips, because it sees a tightening chokehold on Chinese access by United States and its allies as a grave threat to China’s rise and national security.
And that politically charged standoff is increasingly playing out in everyday consumer technology as well.
Earlier this month, while Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was visiting the country, Chinese technology giant Huawei launched its latest smartphone with an advanced — and reportedly Chinese-made — chip.
Claims of a sooner-than-expected breakthrough were hailed in China as evidence that U.S. sanctions had failed to hold the company back, and local media turned Raimondo into an unwitting brand ambassador for the device.
For some on Chinese social media, Apple’s annual product launch on Tuesday evening in California was another opportunity to praise their home champion.
During a live-stream of the event, and under CEO Tim Cook’s post about the iPhone 15 on microblog Weibo, many commented “far, far ahead” — a phrase often used to show support for Huawei after the company used it 14 times in a 2020 presentation.
A Chinese government campaign to question the safety of Apple devices could be a serious blow to a relationship with China that the company has carefully built over decades.
The risk of Apples overreliance on Chinese factories has already been underscored in recent years by worker exoduses during the country’s unpredictable coronavirus lockdowns and human rights group accusations of suppliers relying on Uyghur forced labor.
The apparent squeeze on Apple comes as China has increasingly cited national security concerns to investigate or restrict the operations of foreign companies in the country.
But the Economic Observer, a Chinese newspaper, raised another potential — and in fact opposite — concern for the Communist Party: Its powerful graft-busters are unable to unlock the iPhones of suspects caught in top leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
“This is a problem we often encounter,” an unnamed official for the Beijing Discipline and Supervision Bureau, a powerful graft-fighting agency, told the newspaper. “We have software to unlock other mobile phones without passwords, including some software from Russia. Only Apple phones can’t be unlocked. So this is also a reason officials cannot use Apple phones.”
Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.