As tensions rise between the US and China, Apple’s Chinese operations — which include millions of Apple customers and much of the company’s manufacturing operation — could be at risk. A new report in The Information argues that China may already be closing the loopholes exploited by Apple in previous years, starting with the recent removal of thousands of apps from the Chinese App Store. That could potentially spell trouble for the company’s future in the country.
Apple pulled more than 47,000 apps from the Chinese App Store earlier this month, as first reported by AppInChina. That move wasn’t unexpected, as Apple recently enacted a policy change to eliminate a loophole that previously allowed paid games and games with in-app purchases to be sold even though they were still awaiting approval from Chinese regulators.
That wasn’t the first time Apple had been strong-armed into making significant changes to its services in China, either. For example, Chinese regulators forced Apple to shut down the iBookstore and iTunes Movies in China in April 2016, just six months after Apple launched those stores in the country.
But Apple’s entire App Store operation in China also depends on a loophole of its own, the report claims. Foreign app stores in China are usually required to be joint ventures with a Chinese partner that’s a majority owner and operator, according to the report, but Apple operates the App Store on its own. Apple has also apparently avoided sharing the source code for iOS with China so far, having negotiated an exemption with the Chinese government to not have to do so.
Recently, the Trump administration has taken significant actions against Chinese tech companies, making it harder for some to do business in the US. President Trump issued executive orders earlier this month that would ban TikTok and WeChat, owned by Chinese tech giants ByteDance and Tencent, in the US. The Trump administration has also tightened restrictions on Chinese phone maker Huawei.