US tech giant Apple removed a Hong Kong map application on Thursday that has been used by protesters to track the location of police, following a warning by Beijing.
According to a statement published by the makers of HongKongmap.live, Apple said: “Your app has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong”.
The move follows claims from China’s state media on Wednesday that Apple was supporting pro-democracy protesters because the app “obviously helps rioters” – and warning that the company would suffer consequences for its “unwise and reckless” decision.
An opinion piece in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, highlighted the transport app available on Apple’s store that it said helped protesters identify where police are in Hong Kong.
“Apple’s approval for the app obviously helps rioters,” the article said. “Does this mean Apple intended to be an accomplice to the rioters?”
It then cautioned: “The map app is just the tip of the iceberg”.
It also alleged that a song advocating “Hong Kong independence” had appeared on the “Apple Music Store” in the southern Chinese city, then issued an ominous warning.
“Nobody wants to drag Apple into the lingering unrest in Hong Kong. But people have reason to assume that Apple is mixing business with politics, and even illegal acts,” it said.
“Apple has to think about the consequences of its unwise and reckless decision,” the article said.
As with other campaigns led by state-run press against foreign firms for perceived support of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, comments on China’s strictly controlled internet echoed those of the media.
“It definitely wasn’t an accident that Apple allowed HKmap.live online,” wrote one commentator on Weibo.
“[Apple] should know exactly what it’s doing… It seems that there is too little domestic pressure against Apple.”
Apple, which has a huge presence in China, did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment.
Hong Kong has endured nearly four months of protests that were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions of criminal suspects to the mainland.
They snowballed into a movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability, in the biggest challenge to China’s rule of Hong Kong since its handover from the British in 1997.
China tolerates no dissent on the highly sensitive issue and has in recent weeks increasingly targeted foreign companies and organizations due to their perceived support of the protesters.
Tiffany, Cathay Pacific, NBA
US jewelry brand Tiffany and Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, have also been heavily criticized in China.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media slammed the NBA for an “about-face” Tuesday after the body said it would not apologize for a tweet by the Houston Rockets general manager supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The US league has drawn fire for from Chinese broadcasters, sponsors and social media after Daryl Morey tweeted a message Friday saying “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
After the NBA called Morey’s tweet “inappropriate” in a statement on Chinese social media platform Weibo, league commissioner Adam Silver insisted at a press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday that the league would not apologize and would “support freedom of expression.”
In an editorial, the state-run China Daily accused the NBA of a U-turn and said Silver’s remarks showed the league’s earlier “honey-mouthed” statements had been “nothing but an attempt to prevent the hemorrhaging of profits made in China.”
It added that “Silver’s about-face, which will definitely give a shot to the arms of the rioters in Hong Kong, shows his organization is willing to be another handy tool for US interference in the special administrative region.”
Beijing has often accused foreign forces of fuelling the unrest in Hong Kong.
NBA publicity events canned
An editorial in the nationalistic Global Times also blasted the NBA for bowing to “political correctness in the US,” saying there was now “little room for reconciliation” as the issue had escalated into a clash of values between China and the US.
Silver “will only offend more people no matter what he tries to say,” the tabloid said.
The NBA commissioner said he hoped to discuss the situation with Chinese officials in Shanghai, where the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers are set to play an exhibition game on Thursday.
But a day after the NBA canceled a Nets publicity event in the city, NBA representatives said that it had scrapped a similar public event involving the Lakers on Wednesday.
Separate training sessions by the teams on Wednesday that media had been invited to were also abruptly declared closed.
Crews at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, where the Nets and Lakers were to tip-off, were seen Wednesday morning removing the logos of the NBA, Nets, Lakers, and corporate sponsors from lampposts and walls in the area.
Speculation has grown in the US that the games themselves – another is to be held in the southern city of Shenzhen on Saturday – could be canceled.
The NBA has built a lucrative Chinese fanbase in recent years thanks in part to the popularity of former Rockets centre Yao Ming.
But after Morey’s tweet, state broadcaster CCTV and Chinese internet company Tencent both suspended broadcasts of Rockets games and two preseason NBA games in China.
The Chinese Basketball Association, which Yao now heads, has also cut off ties with the Rockets.