US tech war escalates as China bans government staff from using iPhones for work

China has banned government officials from using Apple iPhones and other foreign devices for work purposes or from bringing them into the office, it has been reported.

People familiar with the matter said officials in central government agencies have been ordered by more senior staff not to use the foreign-branded phones over the past few weeks, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The move comes after the US brought in bans against new telecommunications equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies because they pose an “unacceptable risk” to national security, while the UK has said Huawei technology must be removed from the country’s 5G public networks by the end of 2027.

Earlier this year, the UK Government announced that it would ban the video-sharing app TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, from employees’ work phones over concerns around data security.

The ban was “a proportionate move based on a specific risk with government devices”, Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister, said in March.

People outside an Apple store in Shanghai, China in 2022 (Photo: Aly Song/Reuters)

The EU Commission has also urged member countries to restrict the role of Huawei and ZTE in Europe.

China’s move is the latest in a campaign to wean the country off reliance on foreign technology and limit flows of sensitive information from outside the country.

The ban could have a chilling effect for foreign brands in China, including Apple, which counts China as one of its biggest markets, generating about 19 per cent of its overall revenue.

The paper said it was unclear how widely the orders were being distributed, but similar messages were given to employees at some central government regulators.

Although China has restricted government officials at some agencies from using iPhones for work, the order has now been widened, the paper said.

Amid tensions with the US, Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, has been emphasising national and data security, and has rolled out new laws and compliance requirements for companies.