China has reportedly directed employees at central government agencies not to use Apple iPhones or other foreign-branded technologies at work.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that staff received instructions from their superiors in recent weeks in workplace chat groups or during meetings about the new directive meant to curb Beijing's reliance on foreign technology.
The move was also branded as a way to bolster cybersecurity amid a campaign to curb the flow of sensitive information outside China.
The Journal predicts a chilling effect for foreign brands in China, including Apple, which considers the country one of its largest markets responsible for 19% of its overall revenue.
Fox News Digital reached out to Apple for comment Wednesday, but they did not immediately respond.
Sources told the newspaper that China for years has limited the use of iPhones at government jobs, but the new directive seems to widen the scope of the ban and signals a greater effort on Beijing's part to enforce the rules. Similar messages about restricting iPhone use at work have been relayed to employees at some central government regulators, sources added.
As Beijing's rivalry with Washington, D.C., intensifies, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been stressing national security, prompting a tightening of state control over data and digital activities in recent years, according to the Journal.
In July, China approved a wide-ranging expansion of its counter-espionage law broadening the definition of spying, saying, "documents, data, materials, and items related to national security and interests" are under the same protection as state secrets, according to Reuters. Last month, China's Ministry of State Security urged citizens to join counterespionage work by creating channels to report suspicious activity and rewarding people for doing so.
Apple is a source of millions of jobs in China through contract manufacturers and suppliers, and most of the company's products are assembled in China. Apple has complied in recent years with the Chinese government's demands for removing some apps deemed illegal, including virtual private network, or VPN, apps that allow users to circumvent China’s internet filters and some videogame apps.
In 2021, Beijing also restricted the use of Tesla vehicles by Chinese military employees and staffers of other key state-owned companies amid concerns the data the cars gather risk national security leaks, the Journal reported. Despite this, Tesla vehicles still continue to sell well in the country.
In November, the Biden administration rejected approvals of new telecommunications equipment from China's Huawei Technologies and ZTE, citing "an unacceptable risk" to national security. As U.S. sanctions have deterred Huawei’s ability to produce 5G phones, Apple has reportedly dominated the smartphone market in China. However, Huawei recently revealed a faster flagship phone challenging Apple again for premium users.
Apple and Tesla both have constructed data centers in China in recent years to ease Beijing’s concerns about locally collected data being stored outside the country.
Meanwhile, the United States has yet to enforce an outright ban on Chinese-owned TikTok despite the FBI, State Department and Defense Department warning the app poses a potential national security threat, could be used to allow the Chinese government to access information on U.S. citizens or push pro-Beijing narratives to divide the American people.
The White House, Congress and other federal agencies have taken steps to ban TikTok from government-issued devices. More than two dozen states have done the same since November, the New York Times reported last month. However, Montana became the first state to ban TikTok from operating in the state in May, prompting several lawsuits on First Amendment claims seeking to block the legislation from taking effect in January.
Many U.S. colleges and universities have blocked TikTok from campus Wi-Fi networks, but college students can still use the app by switching to cellular data.