HUAWEI OR THE HIGHWAY

A Chinese company won’t promote staff who buy iPhones

Make your choice.
Make your choice.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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China seems to have reserved most of its ire over the arrest of the CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei for Canada—but at least one US company is facing some pressure.

In the wake of the arrest of Meng Wanzhou Dec. 1 at the request of the US on suspicion of violating sanctions on Iran, some companies announced they would favor Huawei devices over competitor Apple, and offer employees money to do the same, according to a Yahoo report. Huawei, apart from being the world’s biggest provider of telecom equipment, overtook the US company in smartphone sales in August.

A Zhejiang-based technology company apparently took things a step further, according to a report today (Dec. 24) from local newspaper Qianjiang Evening News today (link in Chinese). The newspaper obtained an internal notice titled “An announcement about resisting Apple and supporting Huawei,” in which the company said staff purchasing Apple products will lose chances of promotion and company subsidies. The company said it would reimburse managerial staff who purchase a Huawei phone 50% of the product’s sticker price, and will pay 20% of the phone price for other employees.  The company will also give those who agree to relinquish their existing Apple phones a 25% reimbursement to purchase a Huawei phone.

The newspaper didn’t disclose the company’s name but said the firm confirmed it had issued the notice a week after the arrest. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a query about the measures companies are taking to deter iPhone purchases.

The nationalistic efforts to support Meng, who is also the daughter of the founder of Huawei—considered one of China’s “national champions” (pdf)—come after an arrest seen by many in China as linked to the US-China trade tensions, and to US concern over China’s technology advancement. Still, it’s Canada that has faced more fallout—at least three (paywall) Canadians have been detained in China since then. The reaction toward the US, by contrast, has been relatively muted, with Meng’s fate and the threat of increased US tariffs on Chinese goods in the balance.

Apart from company incentives for Huawei use, tourism spots are offering patriotic promotions for customers using Huawei and other domestic phone brands. The biggest setback for Apple yet—like the Huawei arrest—was a legal one, when a court on Dec. 10 granted Qualcomm a preliminary injunction against Apple iPhone sales on the grounds that the phone maker infringed Qualcomm’s patents. The ruling, which affected nearly all recent iPhone models, came as Apple this year has struggled against cheaper domestic firms. (Apple says the order only applies to older models.)

Still, Apple can take heart from the fact that people don’t seem very impressed with these coercive patriotic purchasing policies. The hashtag #员工买苹果手机将无法晋升# (“employees buying iPhones will not be promoted”) was among the top five trending topics (link in Chinese) on social media platform Weibo Monday morning, with around 360,000 real-time searches. One even questioned the legality of linking personal purchases to professional advancement.

“It’s a staffer’s personal freedom to choose a phone brand, it’s personal and shouldn’t be restricted by the company. It’s certainly a good thing to support domestic products, it’s good for the country and the staffers that the company rewards them to support domestic brands like Huawei, but no law supports penalizing a person for using an iPhone.. and taking away promotion chances and subsidies,” user Buyer Zhang Jun wrote on Weibo (link in Chinese). “The penalized staffer should report it to the labor department. It’s good to love your country, but using Huawei doesn’t equal patriotism.”