Why are Apple’s services being mysteriously shut down in China?

Some experts say that the shutdown may be an effort to promote local tech companies that are competing with foreign companies, including Apple.

AP
A man watches a movie on his smart phone in Shanghai, China.

Apple's iTunes Movies store and iBooks Store have been suspended in China just six months after launching there, a move many say is connected with Beijing's new regulations that seek to further restrict foreign tech and media companies from publishing unapproved content online. 

The services were suspended last week by a Chinese state regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the New York Times reported. Apple's iTunes music store, Apple Pay, and other App store services were not affected by the suspension.

Foreign companies have long faced pressure to comply with Chinese Internet regulations and censorship from the Chinese government, but Apple has had it easier, compared to other tech companies that have been completely shut down, including Facebook and Twitter. Greater China, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, has become the company's second largest market after the United States. 

Though the reasons for the suspension are still unclear, many experts say it is in line with new regulations that took effect this spring. Since taking office in 2012, President Xi Jinping has introduced more restrictive measures in an effort to further hinder foreign competition in the country. In February, the government banned foreign-owned companies from publishing online in China, although they may still cooperate with Chinese companies, with prior approval. 

The restriction could also be, in part, an effort to promote local tech firms now competing with foreign companies in the Chinese market, The Times reported. 

Beijing had demanded Apple hand over the company's source code, general counsel Bruce Sewell told a recent Congressional hearing, but Apple failed to comply with the request. In 2015, the Chinese parliament passed an antiterrorism law requiring technology firms to provide their encryption keys, a measure they said was in keeping with other countries' similar efforts.

On Tuesday, President Xi held a symposium on cybersecurity, where he urged improved safety, but also encouraged officials to "heed public opinions using the Internet," according to state-owned Xinhua News Agency. In attendance were China's top tech leaders, including Jack Ma, chairman of Internet commerce company Alibaba, and Ren Zhengfei, the chief executive officer of telecommunications company Huawei. 

"We welcome foreign Internet enterprises coming to China as long as they abide by Chinese laws and regulations," Xi said, according to Xinhua. 

The government is "interested in protecting the content that the Chinese people see, policing its national security and favoring indigenous giants such as Huawei, Alibaba and Tencent," Daniel H. Rosen, a founding partner of the Rhodium Group, a consulting firm focused on China, told The New York Times. "In this new era, China is strongly disinclined to accept the dominance of foreign players on the Internet, not least those from the United States."

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