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China’s ban on iPhones suggest escalating U.S.-China relations

Sameera Casmod |
10 September 2023 | 09:32am SAST
2-min read

China has recently instructed its central government agencies to discontinue the use of iPhones, according to reports. The acclaimed Apple iPhone is representative of U.S. technological advancement and is thus symbolic of U.S. economic prowess. The sudden shift in attitude towards Apple’s smartphone suggests a growing rift between China and the U.S.

As reported by Reuters on Thursday, China announced its decision to curtail the use of iPhones within its government institutions. The iPhone’s monumental success owes much to its cost-effective manufacturing in China. With a market capitalisation of $2.8 trillion, Apple is a major player in the global economy, and any signs of China distancing itself from the company send a strong signal.

While the exact reasons for China’s newfound scepticism towards Apple remain unclear, the symbolism is undeniable. The ban on iPhones raises questions about the broader context of deteriorating relations between China and the United States. It serves as a stark reminder of the complexities and challenges associated with attempting to unwind two decades of deep economic integration between the two nations.

When China officially became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the close of 2001, it was seen as a leap forward for the world economy, as well as for international peace and cooperation. The prevailing notion was that nations sharing economic interests were less inclined to engage in adversarial relationships. However, over the following two decades, the United States began leveraging its commanding position in global technology and finance as a tool of foreign policy, ultimately provoking responses from other nations.

When Huawei Technologies was blacklisted by the U.S. in 2019 from accessing advanced chip technology for its products on the basis of concerns that the tech company would use its presence in the global telecommunications for international espionage, the move was seen as a political and economic manoeuvre to halt China in its quest for global domination.

Now, Huawei’s release of its latest smartphone last month has created a stir. The Mate 60 pro is said to be powered by Huawei’s proprietary Kirin chip, a product of Chinese semiconductor manufacturer SMIC (Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp) according to a Nikkei Asia report. The United States is cautious, and calls have been made for more information on Huawei’s chips, while some lawmakers advocate for an end to U.S. technology exports to Huawei and SMIC.

Congressional members have expressed dissatisfaction with the export restrictions imposed by the United States on China, asserting that these measures fall short of their expectations. Recent developments surrounding Huawei could potentially amplify existing doubts about the efficacy of these trade limitations.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan refrained from commenting on the specific chip until more information is available, emphasising the importance of understanding its characteristics. He also reiterated the necessity of maintaining technology restrictions focused on national security concerns. In response to the Mate 60 Pro revelations, Rep. Mike Gallagher, Republican chair of the House Select Committee on China, called for a complete halt to U.S. technology exports to Huawei and SMIC.

Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. government has been deliberating a comprehensive ban on exporting semiconductors and other technologies to Huawei.

Nikkei Asia


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