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China going all out to attack India-made iPhone 15. This techno-nationalism will isolate it

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The launch of the Made-in-India iPhone 15 isn’t sitting well with China. The country’s social media is abuzz with commentary on the phone’s perceived ‘subpar quality’ and criticism of Apple for expanding its supply chains in India. But what’s fuelling these remarks? China’s economic prospects within a troubled, complex geopolitical landscape.

Chinese state media have furthered the notion that India is creeping up on the nation’s edge as the manufacturing hub, which is a widely accepted concern within the public as well. The latest maligned commentary in public is articulating deep-seated sentiment that China’s economic prospects are on a downward trend as India’s promise as the next major hub of manufacturing gets more currency. The rabid nationalism seen in the iPhone affair is only going to be repeated moving forward as more and more companies shift their manufacturing base to India and Vietnam.

Rumours about the iPhone 15 show that ‘techno-nationalism’ is infiltrating once-neutral supply chains. And Apple’s quest to ‘de-risk’ by reducing its dependence on China will further aggravate this hyper-nationalistic sentiment.

What China thinks

This debate started about a year ago when Apple first decided to manufacture its products in India.

Even then, Weibo was replete with racist commentary like “the new made-in-India iPhone would be ‘curry flavoured’.” Moreover, technology enthusiasts in the country have gone to great lengths to prove that the India-manufactured iPhone 15 can never meet Chinese standards.

A Sichuan-based blogger named ‘Big Big Biscuits’ posted a video of four new iPhone 15s being taken apart. The explainer video, viewed over 1.6 million times on Weibo, claimed that the stripped-down iPhones had specks of dust inside.

But some users hit back against the claim.

“What does having dust mean? It means ours [China-made iPhones] don’t have dust?” said a user, suggesting the video hypes the issue for no reason.

Some users have even gone on to claim that the new iPhone’s lens is ‘dusty’.

“There are rumours that iPhone lenses made in India are dusty. This batch of iPhone 15 specially supplied to the Chinese market has this problem. It will be a huge blow to the sales of iPhone 15,” said a Weibo user from Hubei.

Apart from claims of ‘poor quality’ OEM (original equipment manufacturer), other pieces of misinformation were also circulated on Chinese social media.

One of them was that the product “couldn’t pass European standards”. Chinese Bloggers and commentators have been claiming that the new India-made iPhone wouldn’t be available for European and American markets thanks to its poor standards.

Wenhao Ma, a reporter with Voice of Americapointed out that Chinese State media has already debunked these claims.

It doesn’t, however, mean that the Chinese State media hasn’t tried to undermine the new iPhone 15.

“US phone maker Apple’s latest flagship series, the iPhone 15, turned out to be unimpressive for the Chinese market,” wrote Gong Zhe, a columnist for China Daily.

The Chinese tabloid Global Times wrote that India’s production capacity stands at 7 per cent as compared to China’s 90 per cent. Chinese State media has repeated this argument, claiming that Apple is still heavily dependent on China and that its Indian production line may or may not be successful.

On Monday, the hashtag “Apple plans to increase production capacity in India to US$40 billion within five years” was viewed over 6 million times on Weibo. This came after Press Trust of India reported that Apple plans to scale up its production in India by five-fold to around $40 billion.

Chinese social media users are also targeting Vietnam for its new Apple MacBooks. “The quality control of not only iPhones but also laptops has declined to the naked eye,” said one user based in Shanghai. However, the MacBooks made in Vietnam haven’t received the same racialised commentary that India-made iPhone has seen over the past week.

Competition laced with envy, racism

Call it envy or racial bias, the technological and economic competition between India and China is flavoured with stereotypical understandings about each other’s culture.

According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Beijing instructed central government departments to stop using Apple products. The Chinese foreign minister later denied the veracity of these rumours.

“China has not issued laws, regulations or policy documents that prohibit the purchase and use of foreign brand phones such as Apple’s,” said Mao Ning, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

But it wouldn’t be surprising if Beijing issued a directive to reduce the use of Apple products as cybersecurity is one of the foremost areas of competition between the US and China. For now, Beijing has signalled to Apple and OEM producers like Foxconn that if they push too hard on their diversifying agenda, China may even stop using Apple products entirely.

The debate around the iPhone 15 shows China’s obsession with Apple products continues despite the State media hyping Huawei’s latest phone as a revolutionary product.

Beijing’s techno-nationalism will only push the country toward isolation as Apple will push ahead with ‘de-risking’. Promoting country-specific misinformation will only hurt Beijing’s interests. 

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