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Apple deletes WhatsApp, Threads from China app store on orders from Beijing

Editor’s Note: Sign up for CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter which explores what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world.

Apple has removed WhatsApp and Threads from its app store in China, following an order from the country’s internet watchdog which cited national security concerns.

“We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” an Apple spokesperson told CNN on Friday. “The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns. These apps remain available for download on all other storefronts where they appear.”

The apps, both owned by Meta (META), were already blocked in China and not widely used. They could be accessed in the country only by using virtual private networks (VPNs) that can encrypt internet traffic and disguise the user’s online identity.

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The removal of the apps by Apple (AAPL) represents a “further distancing between already separated tech universes” in the country and beyond, said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based investment advisory BDA China.

“It will cause inconvenience to consumers and businesses (in China) who deal with family, friends or customers overseas. Even if they use VPNs to access their existing WhatsApp apps, these over time will become obsolete and require updating,” he said.

Other popular Western social media apps including X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram and Messenger are still available on Apple’s China app store, according to a check by CNN.

The tech giant’s announcement comes against a backdrop of plunging iPhone sales in the world’s second largest economy. Its smartphone sales tumbled a stunning 10% in the first quarter of this year, according to market research firm IDC.

The company has lost momentum in China as nationalism, a rough economy and increased competition have hurt Apple over the past several months.

The resurgence of Huawei and other Chinese brands, including Xiaomi and OPPO/OnePlus, will likely continue, according to IDC. Chinese consumers who once would have considered Apple are now turning to the country’s national brands.

Besides being a key production center, China remains an important market for Apple as it is the largest market behind the United States. The company continues to offer discounts in the country to help boost sales.

Its CEO Tim Cook visited Shanghai just last month to open the second biggest Apple store in the world.

— Hassan Tayir contributed reporting.

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