In less than a year, China has upended the world’s largest internet sphere, throwing its biggest players from Alibaba to Tencent into a tailspin with a storm of regulatory measures to loosen their stranglehold over data and content. Yet Apple Inc., the largest of them all and an American icon, has sailed through mostly unscathed.
That may be changing. President Xi Jinping has over the past year launched a broad offensive against Big Tech, directing the dismantling of digital walls around platforms like WeChat that stifle competition. Last month, China’s top court effectively granted consumers the right to sue Apple for alleged abuse of market power — a setback for a company whose App Store pioneered the walled-garden model of centralizing user data and publishing control.
Xi’s campaign threatens a delicate balance Apple has cultivated in China, a market that underpins much of its $2.4 trillion value as both the foremost producer and one of the biggest consumers of iPhones. Apple is among the most profitable American players in China, a country that’s shut out rivals from Alphabet Inc.’s Google to Facebook Inc., navigating between Beijing’s increasingly rigid demands and anti-China sentiment back home.