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As tech firms pull back from Russia, China looks on with concern

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China’s smartphone market could decline within the second quarter because the country experiences a resurgence of covid cases, analysts said. But Apple could fare quite well, the analysts said because it continues to draw users within the high-end of the market.

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HONG KONG — Extensive efforts by Apple and other Western tech firms to curtail their business with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine have raised a matter for product users in China: Could the identical thing occur there?

Much of Chinese consumers’ concern has been focused on Apple, which like GoogleMicrosoft and other tech giants hurried to curb its Russia business after President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The corporate has stopped product sales and exports, limited services like Apple Pay and removed the Russian state news outlets RT News and Sputnik News from the Apple Store outside Russia.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in addition to the worldwide response, have been closely watched in Asia, where there are long-standing tensions between China and the self-ruling island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said “reunification” with Taiwan is inevitable and has not ruled out the usage of force to realize it, though the Taiwanese government says there aren’t any signs of imminent attack. 

Chinese officials reject any comparison between Taiwan and Ukraine, saying only Ukraine is an independent country. But some online commenters in China, where social media is dominated by nationalist and pro-Russian sentiment, have criticized Apple’s actions in Russia and said China should prepare itself for similar tactics.

“If in the future China finally decides to liberate Taiwan, who can guarantee that our own iPhones won’t get deactivated?” one user asked on Zhihu, a Chinese social media platform much like Quora.

Experts say it might be difficult for Apple to walk away from China, which is a critical manufacturing center for the corporate in addition to its third-largest market after the US and Europe.

“It’s a really different story than what is going on in Russia,” said Kendra Schaefer, head of tech research at Trivium, a policy research team based in Beijing.

Schaefer identified that Chinese regulations require Apple and other firms to store Chinese customers’ information on servers contained in the country.

“The query can be, does pulling out of China mean that Apple not only loses its customers, but all of its customer data completely?” she said.

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