On the day Apple’s iPhone 15 series went on sale in India and other countries, a flood of outright lies, misinformation and racist jokes about Made in India iPhones spread through China’s internet. The campaign seems orchestrated given that China’s web is a creation of the ruling Communist Party which closely regulates and monitors content.
The odd thing here is Apple iPhone production in India is a very recent phenomenon and currently accounts for only 7 per cent of iPhone production worldwide. The bulk of iPhones continue to be made in China which remains the manufacturing hub. So why this negative campaign?
This is the first time iPhones made in India are going on sale at the same time as anywhere else, and for China, it represents the thin edge of the wedge. iPhone production in India can only grow and accelerate given the steady downturn in relations between the U.S. and China.
#WATCH | Delhi: Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar says, “The world’s largest company in technology Apple has launched its new iPhone 15. During this launch, India is achieving two milestones. First, the availability of the iPhone 15 in India would be on the same day as the… pic.twitter.com/Hc8H7IEzOb
— ANI (@ANI) September 14, 2023
This news has quickly spread across Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo. Many Chinese users, including both regular netizens and dedicated pro-CCP supporters, appeared upset and angry that China-made iPhones will now have to compete globally with India-made iPhones.
A misinformation campaign is evident which claims that “Made in China iPhones will be supplied to Europe and America as they are high and better in quality unlike those made in India ones and Made in India iPhones are only for the Chinese market as they did not pass the quality checks in Europe”.
The campaign appears driven by “Little Pinks,” loyal supporters of the Communist Party who are usually galvanised to drum up support for the party and its leaders. China’s web also features netizens discussing how to boycott India-made iPhones.
Some wrote so-called advisories on how to identify India-made iPhones (strange since the cartons and the phones carry that information). These are in the form of posters with the following message, “Received an India made iPhone?” Don’t Panic, Stop it Quickly? (Poster screenshot below) Other messages being conveyed include the assertion that “India-manufactured iPhones carry premium price tags, and users should consider boycotting them.”
A comment going viral on China’s Quora-like platform Zhihu, claims that “Apple was politically motivated to produce iPhones in India and that Chinese consumers should let them know this is not okay by boycotting them.”
Some comments carry undertones of racism, such as “Do Indian workers really wash their hands before producing iPhone”.
A post from Sina Weibo official also claimed that “Apple’s technical consultant stated that iPhones purchased in China would be made in China. However, this is not guaranteed 100%, and it depends on the phone you receive. If you are unsatisfied, you can return it within 14 days if purchased through the official website.”
At some point, perhaps unnerved at the flood of anti-Indian comments reflective of the public mood and even government policy, the state-run English language China Daily newspaper, published an article titled “iPhone 15 rumours Denied” on September 9th, refuting all the claims. The article quoted sources close to Apple Inc. as dismissing market rumours that the China-made iPhone 15 series was intended for the European and American markets, while the India-made iPhone 15 line-up was meant exclusively for the Chinese market.
The report also made the point that India currently accounts for only about 7 per cent of all iPhone production, while China is responsible for 90 per cent of the same. They emphasised that China represents one of Apple’s largest markets and that India’s production capacity cannot meet the demand in China.
An interesting sidelight to this story is a Reuters report last week which said that China had banned iPhone use by government officials and some Chinese companies are following suit. The report appears to have helped Chinese firm Huawei, with social media videos showing people rushing to the company’s stores to purchase their phones.
In fact, Huawei’s latest device has triggered a surge of tech nationalism online coinciding with geopolitical tensions between China and India that have fuelled anti-India sentiment and a certain level of animosity towards Apple users.
China’s economic warfare against India has reached an altogether new level as global supply chains for elite high-end products such as Apple products are now originating in India. This is causing considerable heartburn as India’s symbolic rise is being seen as China’s loss, says Atul Aneja, Editor of indianarrative.com. “While China appears to be stagnating, India, a formidable rival, is on the rise. Two, recent events have triggered this subconscious negativity. First, India became the first country in the world to do a landing on the south face of the moon. Second, the G-20 summit in India was a roaring success. A rising India now also appears to be stealing China’s thunder for leadership of the Global South. Third, the Chinese fear that India’s tech relationship with the U.S. and France will bolster New Delhi’s national power, including military power in the next decade and beyond.
(The article first appeared in StratNews Global and has been re-published with permission)