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Government workers across China, from nuclear power plants to far-flung hospitals, have been ordered in recent weeks to stop using Apple phones – part of a Beijing-led backlash against the US tech giant, whose stock was valued at $200 billion this week has lost.

Employees at numerous Chinese government agencies and state-owned companies have been told by their superiors not to use Apple iPhones, putting further pressure on the American company’s long-standing government use of the devices.

“In August, we were informed by our management that we were not allowed to bring Apple products – be they mobile phones or laptops – into office buildings,” a China National Nuclear Corporation official told the Financial Times, declining to be named given the issue become sensitivity.

Five other officials from various government institutions and state-owned companies confirmed that there are a number of restrictions on their use, with some unofficial restrictions dating back many years.

Neither Beijing – which has not announced any formal restrictions – nor Apple have commented on the reports of bans, which were first raised by the Wall Street Journal this week. But just days before Apple launches a new smartphone, the reports alarmed investors in the company, which generates about a fifth of its revenue from China.

“This must have come from the top,” said Willy Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation think tank. “It is a big decision that may affect many Apple employees in China, and it sends a message to American and other multinational corporations with business interests in China.” An informal ban is a “message to the US government, its technology sector restrictions to impose,” he said.

The China National Nuclear Corporation official said state-owned China Telecom came to its offices in late August to sell domestic phone brands.

“We were told that US security authorities could control Apple devices through security vulnerabilities,” the employee said. “The goal includes not just military personnel, but key people in all walks of life.”

A nurse at a state hospital in Inner Mongolia said the local government ordered hospital staff to stop using iPhones in late August, citing the “huge security risks” of iOS.

Other state officials said unofficial restrictions were even further behind. A police officer said they were banned from using iPhones several years ago.

An official in Beijing said that central government departments with ties to the military also banned iPhone use several years ago. Over the past two years, officials across government agencies, even in non-sensitive sectors, have been encouraged to choose Chinese alternatives, particularly from Huawei, they said.

However, restrictions between government agencies are far from uniform. The No. 10 General Design Department of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation published a post on China’s social media service WeChat on Monday advising employees on procedures to check their iPhones for spyware.

Government orders are only part of the problem for Apple. Some employees have voluntarily decided to give up iPhones amid escalating tensions between China and the US and reports of security risks.

“I stopped using my iPhone for work a few years ago when US-China relations began to deteriorate,” said an employee at a major state-owned financial institution. “Apple is an American company and will prioritize U.S. interests.”

Chinese media has previously reported that the iPhone’s encryption settings have hampered anti-corruption investigations into local officials.

“President Xi Jinping is committed to ensuring complete control over the flow of information,” Lam said. “Apple is widely used in China, but unlike Huawei and domestically manufactured phones, the government does not have as much direct control over production and the manufacturing process.”

This is not the first time an American tech giant has faced restrictions on selling to Chinese agencies.

In May, Beijing banned key infrastructure operators from buying products from U.S. memory chip maker Micron, saying they posed “serious risks to network security.” The move was widely seen as retaliation for Washington’s efforts to restrict China’s access to critical technology restrict.

Apple, whose CEO Tim Cook traveled to Beijing to meet Xi this year, has benefited from U.S. sanctions against its rival Huawei. iPhone sales in China surged after Huawei was banned from accessing cutting-edge foreign components in 2019 and forced to halt production of its 5G smartphone lines.

Huawei released a new phone last week that is believed to be 5G-ready and uses domestic chips. The phone is seen as a sign of how the country’s technology industry is adapting to US export controls.

The latest news comes after US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visited Beijing to try to restore dialogue on economic issues.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he had no plans to raise the Apple issue with the Chinese government at this time.

Chinese technology companies were also barred from selling to Western government agencies.

The British government has ordered its departments to remove products from surveillance device maker Hikvision due to privacy concerns. The White House, the US armed forces and the executive branch of the European Union have banned the Chinese social media app TikTok from government devices.

Asked about a ban on Apple, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday: “We welcome products and services from any country as long as they comply with China’s legal and regulatory requirements.”

Apple and Huawei did not respond to a request for comment. The China National Nuclear Corporation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Lauren Fedor in Washington

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