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China Comes Down on Apple After Calling Company ‘Arrogant’

China's industry and commerce authority has said that it will tighten its oversight of Apple as well as punish the technology giant for failing to comply with Chinese laws following a month-long media blitz accusing the company of “arrogance”.

A little more than a week before the State Administration for Industry and Commerce's announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a rare public apology to Chinese consumers on behalf of Apple in response to the barrage of negative press in China's state-run media slamming the Apple's warranty policy as discriminatory toward Chinese consumers.

“We realize a lack of communication in this process has led to speculation that Apple is arrogant and doesn't care about or value consumers’ feedback,” Cook said in the Chinese-language apology published on April 1. “We sincerely apologize for any concern or misunderstanding this has brought to customers.”

The scathing media attack against Apple began on March 15, 2013 on International Consumer’s Day when China Central Television (CCTV) aired an annual investigative special on consumers’ rights in which Apple was singled out as providing poorer after-sales service to Chinese customers, including offering only a one-year warranty instead of the legal requirement of two years. In the days after, several state-run news outlets piled on the company, such as the People’s Daily newspaper which called Apple “incomparably arrogant”.

China has become Apple's second largest market after the United States and the company told the Chinese government's news agency earlier this year that China would over take the US soon. According to a report released last November, Apple had 71.4 percent of the Chinese tablet market, with Lenovo at a lowly 10 percent and Samsung at a derisory 3 percent.

Many observers saw Cook's apology as less than genuine, pointing out that Apple simply cannot afford to lose China as its most promising market.

Chinese blogger @Foxshou explains Apple.Inc market strategy in China.

Chinese blogger @Foxshou explains Apple's market strategy in China.

But many Chinese consumers, the supposed victims of Apple's poor policy, came to the company's defense.

On popular Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo, many netizens raised doubts about the government's motive behind its relentless criticism of Apple. Some speculated that it could be part of the government’s strategy to steer people's attention away from real problems at home, such as food safety and environmental pollution.

Liu Liang [zh] (@陆亮的微博) summed up a prevailing sentiment online following Apple's apology:

: 苹果道歉了,但四川地震豆腐渣学校,无人道歉; 有毒奶粉,无人道歉; 隐瞒萨斯,无人道歉; 河南艾滋病村,无人道歉; 黄浦江几万头死猪污染水源,无人道歉。

Apple apologized, but no one apologized for the shoddy schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake; no one apologized for tainted milk powder; no one apologized for SARS cover-up; no one apologized for AIDS villages in Henan, no one apologized for the over 10,000 dead pigs that polluted the Huangpu river.

Prominent blogger Li Chengpeng [zh] (@李承鹏) used a vivid analogy to illustrate this:

当他不想让一个人说真话时,通常却会去批评此人早上不刷牙。一些人上当去注意不刷牙时,就忘了听真话。这是几十年惯用手法了。

When he doesn't want to hear the truth from someone, he tends to accuse that person of not brushing their teeth. When others pay attention to not brushing the teeth, they forgot to listen to the truth. It has been the trick for decades.

Others maintained that the Chinese government is practicing national protectionism. Some were furious with the government's selective blindness when it comes to poor services among domestic monopolies:

@气怪叔:央视口诛笔伐搞臭苹果,苹果道歉之后还是不依不饶,请央视痛斥移动联通电信3家同样霸王条款的公司,为更多人群谋福利,每年315对电信垄断巨头选择性失明是怎么个意思?

“Angry Uncle”:CCTV made every effort in damaging the reputation of Apple and went to the extent of punishing Apple after it made the apology. Please severely blast China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom [the three major telecommunication companies in China] in order to protect more customers’ rights. Why every 315 selectively turns blind to the telecom monopolies?

@丛心开史:央视咬了苹果手机,苹果道歉并改变歧视条款。这说明央视咬力猛过鳄鱼,杀伤力更不在话下。但我们不解的是,央视为什么不咬一下联通,移动和两桶油,这些国内的三条蛆远比烂苹果要恶心得多!

“Wo Shi Cong Huangyu”: CCTV takes a bite out of Apple and pressured Apple to change, from which we have a grasp of how powerful CCTV is – even more powerful than a crocodile. With such a power, why doesn't CCTV take a bite out of China Mobile and China Unicom, whose services are much worse than Apple!

When in China, do as the Chinese do 

Apple is not alone in having been singled out for consumer rights issues by state-run media. In recent years, big foreign corporations such as CarrefourHewlett Packard, and KFC have all come under scrutiny.

The recent campaign against Apple even reminded netizens of Google's spat with China’s state media back in 2009. Unlike Google who refused to bow to Chinese government's policy of censoring the Internet and migrated its search engine out of China, Apple quickly yielded to Chinese political pressure, conforming like their Chinese counterparts:

@贾_矜持:刚看到苹果道歉的新闻,我恍惚了一下,跟09年的谷歌好像。一个将不作恶写进公司章程的企业,面对这片神奇的土地遭遇各种‘理所应当’的阻力的时候,试图坚持底线的调整自己,但最终还是被赶了出去

“Faking Shyness”: Hearing about Apple's apology, I am reminded of the Google controversy in 2009. The company tried to adjust itself while holding its principles, but was still driven out in the end.

The “Rashomon” of Apple's apology 

Netizen “Fox Shuo“ (@阑夕), who has been following Apple's market strategy in China [zh], wrote an analysis of Apple's apology, which has circulated widely on China's social Web. The article [zh] compared the affair to “Rashomon“, a Buddhist story that depicts a world where everyone tells lies for the sake of their own benefit, and the truth is therefore confined:

最后,对毒害空气、猪烂江河视而不见的,对你说,我为你伸张了正义,争取了权益,打击了歧视你的外国手机厂商。而那傲慢的一方,除了按图索骥式的修补一些遭受攻击的漏洞之外,未尝真的对中国消费者提升了片刻的尊敬,它的字典里从来就只有“用户体验”,这个动辄由中央媒体绕过用户代为主张、规定什么权益可以被允许争取什么权益不准争取的奇葩国家,还真是坐实了它的国际形象。

The result is that [the Chinese government] which turns a blind eye to toxic pollution and pig cadavers cries out for justice for its people through attacking the foreign mobile phone company; while the arrogant company, although following the rules and closing the loophole of its service, has never shown real respect to the Chinese consumers. In its dictionary, we can only find a term called “user experience”. The established international image for this strange country is that consumers are represented by the central government, which has a final say on what rights can be fought for.

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