Chinese Government Setting Tone of Support Towards Apple

Chinese Government Setting Tone of Support Towards Apple

It’s still too early to determine how the US/China trade dispute will impact Apple. That said, since the May escalation of the US/China trade and Huawei disputes, we’ve been monitoring Apple-related Chinese online media to gauge the frequency of negative comments directed at Apple. It’s important to note that the tone of Chinese online media is heavily curated by the government, which often dictates to the media what they want people to see. While our data is limited, it does give high-level insight into the government’s message to the Chinese people regarding Apple. We are surprised to find the brand appears to be largely intact, evidenced by the low-frequency of negative comments. Based on this, it seems less likely that the Chinese government will directly retaliate against Apple. We caution the Chinese government can negatively influence Apple outside of the headlines by making operations difficult (e.g. slowing down the supply chain or restricting permits).

Our observations:

  • Weibo: 10% of the comments from the WWDC post from June 4th are negative. The thread now has 154 comments (vs. 120 comments we observed on June 5th). The number of negative (along the lines of “boycott Apple”) comments remained unchanged from our June 5th observation at 16 comments out of 154 total comments. This post now has 22,349 likes and 400 forwards.
  • Weibo: None of the comments from a thread on Tim Cook were negative. The latest Apple-related post was on June 20th related to the book Tim Cook: The Genius That Took Apple to the Next Level. There we 139 likes, 834 forwards, and 263 comments. We found no comments out of the 263 related to boycotting Apple products. The commenters compare Cook to Jobs, generally, praise Cook, and discuss Cook as a businessman rather than an inventor.
  • Weibo: 1% of the comments from an iPhone ownership study are negative. A post on June 17th discussing an article on Declutter. The article calculated the lifetime cost of buying a new iPhone every year to be $45,000 USD.  There were 244 comments; while none of the comments explicitly mention “boycotting apple,” we found 3 comments related to “Why not buy Huawei.” Most of the comments appear to be from current iPhone owners.
  • Multiple Chinese news publishers wrote about Tim Cook’s interview with CBS where he said China has not targeted Apple despite the escalated trade war. The comments under these articles appear to be rational and neutral towards Apple.
  • Reddit-like Chinese forums have limited negative comments. On Tianya.com and Douban, we did observe threads with comments related to boycotting Apple but most date back to December 2018.
  • Regarding Huawei and the trade war, Chinese op-ed articles think the Chinese media has been surprisingly quiet compared to the wide chatters in the US media. Our searches agree with this view.
  • The Chinese media seems to be adopting a “supportive” facade. The media consensus takes the approach that, while a big country like the US going after a private Chinese company (Huawei) is not fair, China should act magnanimously.
  • Early in June, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei said in a widely circulated interview that, “Apple is Huawei’s teacher. I would not like it if the Chinese government decides to target Apple.” Again, don’t take this at face value but as a sign of what the government wants people to see.

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