China flagged security problems with iPhones while saying it isn’t barring purchases, the government’s first comments on the topic after news reports that authorities are moving to restrict the use of Apple products in sensitive departments and state-owned companies.

“We noticed that there have been many media reports about security incidents concerning Apple phones,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Wednesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing, without elaborating. 

China plans to expand a ban on the use of iPhones to a plethora of state-backed companies and agencies, Bloomberg News has reported, a sign of growing challenges for Apple in its biggest foreign market and global production base. Several agencies have begun instructing staff not to bring their iPhones to work. 

“China has not issued laws and regulations to ban the purchase of Apple or foreign brands’ phones,” Mao said, adding that the government attaches “great importance” to security and that all companies operating in China need to abide by its laws and regulations.

Mao’s comments about security incidents were slightly different in the official English translation of the news briefing. That translation, delivered simultaneously onsite by the ministry, omitted the reference to media “reports.” Foreign affairs ministry briefings are typically rigorously controlled and spokespeople’s responses are usually scripted ahead of time. 

The press conference came just hours after Apple unveiled its latest model of the marquee device, the iPhone 15. The company unveiled four new models, keeping pace with the past few generations: the iPhone 15, 15 Plus, 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. 

If Beijing goes ahead with an iPhone ban, the unprecedented blockade will be the culmination of a yearslong effort to root out foreign technology used in sensitive environments, coinciding with Beijing’s effort to reduce its reliance on American software and circuitry.

It threatens to erode Apple’s position in a market that yields about a fifth of its revenue, and from where it makes the majority of the world’s iPhones through sprawling factories that employ millions of Chinese.

© 2023 Bloomberg LP

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