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Apple store has taken a widely popular Quran app offline in China, a country where thousands of Muslims in the Xinjian province have been subjected to a large state-run campaign aimed at destroying their culture and religion. According to reporting made by the BBC, the app was removed for “hosting illegal religious texts”, the article also reported that Apple removed a popular Bible app because it lacked the required government permits.
The Chinese Communist Party has engaged in a massive campaign of subjugation of the Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang, with NGOs reporting that the Chinese government has sent thousands of them to concentration camps, massive sterilizing them, and even using them as slave labor. In fact, the United States declared the current actions of the CCP against the Uyghur as a “genocide”, on the last day of the Trump administration.
Appeasing Chinese authorities
Quran Majeed is one of the largest apps that display the Quran, Islam’s most sacred text, and it is used by millions of Muslims across the world. The creators of the app said that it was removed from China’s apple store because “it includes content that requires additional documentation from Chinese authorities”. When contacted by the BBC, Chinese authorities did not make any comments, and Apple just referenced a section of its policy saying that the company needs to obey local laws, even if they disagree with them.
This action by Apple is not the first time the company has bowed to the orders of authoritarian regimes across the world, just a month ago the American tech giant was accused of “political censorship” after taking offline an app developed by supporters of Russian political prisoner Aleksei Navalny, which would allow them to coordinate protest votes in the country’s legislative elections.
It has also been reported that Apple has employed similar tactics within China many times before. The New York Times reporting that the company commanded by Tim Cook regularly bans content that the Chinese Communist Party could consider as dangerous, with the report from the Times indicating that a total of 55,000 apps that are available across the world are being taken out of the servers in China.
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Symptom of a bigger problem
Apple is also not the only U.S. company that has been criticized for being too close with the authoritarian Chinese regime. Disney was heavily criticized over the release of their 2020 live-action film Mulan, as the film explicitly thanks the Xinjian government security bureau that is in charge of the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs.
Other entertainment companies have also been accused of engaging in self-censorship in order to avoid losing access to the lucrative Chinese market. A lengthy report by the non-profit PEN America, details how pervasive is the issue of Chinese influence over Hollywood productions, with the report saying that the strict censorship by the Chinese government has “instantiated self-censorship from filmmakers aiming to anticipate and preempt Beijing’s objections”.
Sometimes, the influence of China has reached beyond its borders. For example, in 2019 an ESPN broadcast showed a picture of China’s map including the island of Taiwan and the “nine-dash line” over the South China sea, which are territorial claims that are trumpeted by the Beijing government but that are contested by the rest of the international community.
Of course, the NBA was also under heavy criticisms over the way it handled Chinese outrage over a tweet of Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019. Chinese companies and associations cut ties with the NBA over this tweet, and the NBA then issued contradicting statements in English and mandarin, with the former issuing a soft apology and the latter firmly rebuking the Houston Manager.
Big companies are not the only ones who have been accused of cowing to the Chinese Communist Party rhetoric, with basketball superstar LeBron James coming under heavy fire after he, who is a very outspoken commentator of American politics, said that Morey should not have tweeted that post as he “wasn’t educated” on the issue and did not make any criticisms over police crackdown in Hong Kong.
The decision by Apple to actively censor an app showing the most sacred text of Islam just to appease the Chinese government authorities is just the latest of actions showing how American companies, many of which sell themselves as supporters of diversity at home, will comply with Chinese censorship requirements abroad and even engage in self-censorship at home.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.