Chinese consumers could boycott Apple if the United States bans WeChat, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman warned on Friday, as the clock ticks forward on a US order to block the popular social app.
US President Donald Trump this month announced a ban beginning in mid-September of WeChat and another Chinese-owned app, TikTok, accusing them of threatening national security, further fueling tensions between Beijing and Washington.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted on Friday that “if WeChat is banned, then there will be no reason for the Chinese to keep the iPhone and Apple products.”
Zhao had already said on Thursday, “Many Chinese are saying that they can stop using iPhones if WeChat is banned in the US,” and accused the US of “systematic economic harassment of non-US companies” in pointing out to the Chinese app.
The comments mark a rare direct reference from Beijing to boycotting an American product and come as the superpowers clash on multiple fronts, including military activity in the South China Sea, Hong Kong and the blame for the coronavirus.
Chinese social media users responded with mixed feelings on Friday to Zhao’s warning on Twitter, which is blocked in China but accessible through virtual private network software.
“I use Apple, but I also love my country,” said a user on the Twitter-like Weibo platform. “It is not a conflict.”
“No matter how good Apple is, it’s just a phone. It can be replaced, but WeChat is different, ”argued another user. “Modern Chinese will lose their soul if they leave WeChat, especially entrepreneurs.”
Wechat, known in mainland China as Weixin, has more than 1.2 billion active users.
Trump’s executive order against WeChat forces the platform to end all operations in the United States and prohibits Americans from doing business with it.
Apple accounted for eight percent of China’s smartphone market in the second quarter of 2020, according to Counterpoint Research, far behind national leader Huawei.