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Apple and other companies must not yield to Chinese censorship

With protests in Hong Kong showing no sign of letting up, many Western governments and corporations have responded with condemnation of the Chinese government’s blatant violation of the “One country, Two systems” agreement it signed up to in 1997. As such, they have shown solidarity to those protesting against Beijing’s latest clampdown on the region. Apple, however, have instead bowed to Chinese pressure, when last week they decided to revoke HKMap.live, an app which tracks the movement of police patrols within key districts of Hong Kong.

This is a reversal on their previous position only last week, having made it available on the Appstore on 5th October, before proceeding to remove it just five days later. The evident U-turn is blatantly a result of pressure from Beijing, who were well aware that the app makes it easier for protesters to steer clear of law enforcement services.

The double standards of Apple here illustrates how this decision is ultimately a political one

Apple defends its decision by arguing that it is in the interests of public safety. This will feel very odd to the thousands who have been attacked, often violently, by Chinese authorities. Violence against protesters is increasing, with Beijing keen to shut down demonstrations that have now been continuous for 200 days.

In this light, Apple’s decision can be clearly seen as motivated not by public safety, but politics. This can be shown by its hypocrisy on HKMap.live compared to other crowdsourcing apps that monitor police patrols, which are freely available on the Appstore. For instance, a driving app called Waze directly states that it allows users to “Avoid traffic, police and accidents”. Since Apple states that evading the police was the reason for HKMap.live’s removal, then surely it will also remove Waze? The double standards of Apple here illustrates how this decision is ultimately a political one.

Following the move, Apple was rightly condemned by many. Charles Mok, a prominent member of Hong Kong’s legislative council wrote to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to describe his “deep disappointment” with Apple’s decision to ban the App. He went on to warn the company not to become “an accomplice for Chinese oppression and censorship”, and defended the app, saying it “helps citizens avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in any criminal activities might be subjected to police brutality”. In a tweet of the letter, Mok finished with “Value over profits, pls!”

The people of Hong Kong can understandably have no more faith in Western corporations than they can in their governments to take a stand against China’s tightening grip on the region

This encapsulates Apple’s problem: it is willingly putting its interests in the Chinese economy over respect for basic human rights. Apple is fully aware of the serious human rights abuses that are going on in China, such as the appalling treatment of the Uyghur people to give just one such example.

They are also conscious of China’s clear violation of the “Once country, Two systems” Agreement that it is expected to respect. Yet, when the Communist Party asked them to withdraw the app, Apple held virtually no reservations, despite the obvious geopolitical impact this will have. This it yet a further blow to the people of Hong Kong, for the app was removed not for reasons of “public safety”, but because Beijing asked them to. The people of Hong Kong can understandably have no more faith in Western corporations than they can in their government to take a stand against China’s tightening grip on the region.

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