Mr. Shangkong

Foreign smartphone brands like Apple a victim of rising Chinese nationalism

Buying a smartphone is becoming more like a patriotic decision for many Chinese consumers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 September, 2015, 8:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 1:04pm

Almost everything in China could be political, including your decision to buy your next smartphone - whether you choose foreign brands like Apple or you support a national brand like Huawei.

Ahead of Wednesday's scheduled launch of Apple's new iPhone 6S smartphone, state broadcaster China Central Television ran a Quality Report programme that strongly criticised the performance of cameras in a number of top-selling foreign smartphones, including Apple's iPhone 6 and Samsung's Galaxy S5.

The programme said Chinese authorities tested 10 smartphones sold in the country and found that at least eight failed to reach national standards for digital cameras, including devices made by foreign brands Apple, Samsung, Nokia and Sony.

To be fair, CCTV also named four domestic brands - Lenovo, Oppo, TCL and Nubia - in the report, but it focused the most on quality issues with Apple and Samsung products.

The two most popular national brands - Xiaomi and Huawei - were not mentioned.

According to a market survey released by the Consumer Electronics Association earlier this year, 59 per cent of Chinese respondents agreed that buying domestic technology products could support the Chinese economy, something those considering themselves patriotic should do.

China has improved rapidly in technology and innovation for the past decade. Its homegrown smartphone Xiaomi has also become popular in foreign markets like India, competing with Apple and Samsung on the world stage.

The country is widely expected to become the No 1 market for consumer technology next year, overtaking the United States.

As Chinese media widely reported the news about Apple's upcoming smartphones in recent weeks, you can easily find anti-Apple comments on Chinese social media platforms. Some urged Apple not to come to China to "earn money from Chinese" while others described Apple as an "icon of American imperialism".

Apparently, Chinese web portals like Sina have no intention to remove such comments while if you describe something as "Chinese imperialism", your comment will be usually quickly removed.

Last week's massive military parade in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, as well as to showcase the country's most advanced weapons and military facilities, will bring Chinese patriotism to a new level, especially for Chinese youth, who are also the leading group of Chinese consumers.

But when buying a smartphone is getting more like a patriotic decision or not for ordinary Chinese consumers, it sends a mixed message to the world about how sincerely Beijing is willing to engage with the rest of the world politically and commercially.


George Chen is managing editor of SCMP International Edition. For more Mr. Shangkong columns: or follow @george_chen on Twitter