Apple removed a smartphone app used by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong late Wednesday in the tech giant’s latest capitulation to China’s authoritarian government. The app, HKmap.live, allowed users to see Hong Kong police movements via crowdsourced information as cops in the region continue to brutalize the local population. Apple had previously banned the app, but reinstated it just a few days ago, only to remove it again on Wednesday.
The decision to remove the app came just a day after China’s state-run news outlet, People’s Daily, published an article suggesting that Apple was committing “illegal acts” by being “accomplices” to the protesters—people that the propaganda website called “rioters.” The People’s Daily also complained that Apple had allowed a song, “Hong Kong Independence,” to be available on its platforms.
Apple has been bending over backwards to appease the Chinese government over the past two years, pulling the Taiwan flag emoji from users in mainland China and banning hundreds of VPNs, among other forms of censorship. Apple also banned the QZ news app in China on Wednesday over its coverage of Hong Kong.
When taken together, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are collectively Apple’s second largest market after the U.S., according to Bloomberg News, providing a clear financial incentive for the technology company to do the bidding of Beijing.
Apple did not respond to Gizmodo overnight but did send Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman a statement confirming the company removed the app because it “violates our guidelines and local laws.”
“We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place to discover apps,” Apple said. “We have learned that an app, HKmap.live, has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.”
“Many concerned customers in Hong Kong have contacted us about this app and we immediately began investigating it,” Apple’s statement continued. “The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement.”
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have been out in full force since June, when a controversial extradition bill was first introduced that would have made it easier for the Chinese government to extract so-called criminals from Hong Kong. The region operates under a “one country, two systems” arrangement that has historically allowed Hong Kong some autonomy over the way that it governs, but that model is increasingly under attack.
While the extradition bill has been pulled, protesters are calling for democratic reforms and want an investigation into police brutality against protesters, which only seems to get worse with every passing week. The leader of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, is allegedly working in the interests of the Chinese government rather than her own people, and Hong Kongers have demanded that she step down.
The Trump regime recently blacklisted 28 tech companies in China for their participation in the system of concentration camps that hold an estimated 1 million Uyghur people. But as we saw with the president’s betrayal of the Kurds this week, alliances can change on a dime in the Trump era. President Trump has reportedly told China’s leadership that he won’t speak out in favor of the Hong Kong protesters as long as he gets favorable trade terms with the Chinese government.
And so far the president has kept his word, declining to criticize the Chinese regime in the White House on Wednesday when discussing their treatment of the NBA. The NBA has been scooped up into China’s politics after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey expressed support for the Hong Kong protesters on Twitter, a social media service that isn’t even allowed in mainland China.
“This has to be a better deal from our standpoint. I think they fully understand it,” Trump said in that cravenly transactional way that defines his presidency. “I think China has a lot of respect for me, for our country, for what we are doing. I think they can’t believe what they have gotten away with for so long.”
President Trump, like Apple, only really cares about business. And it’s going to be a rude shock for many Americans if Trump ever wakes up one day and decides that he’s gotten what he wants out of a U.S.-China trade deal. Traditional global alliances are crumbling quickly as Trump seeks to align the U.S. with North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey against European allies like the UK, France, and Germany.
The banning of one pro-democracy app may be the least of our worries in the coming months as the liberal world order, formerly led by the U.S., gets violently flipped on its head.