Dec 6, 2022 - World

Chinese activists stage hunger strike outside Apple's California headquarters

Two Chinese pro-democracy activists staging a hunger strike stand in front of Apple Park in Cupertino, California.

Two Chinese pro-democracy activists staging a hunger strike stand in front of Apple Park in Cupertino, Calif., on Dec. 5. Photo: VK

Two Chinese pro-democracy activists began a hunger strike on Monday in front of Apple's corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California, calling on the company to remove restrictions on AirDrop in China.

The big picture: Recent widespread demonstrations in China against COVID restrictions and limited freedoms have inspired solidarity protests among Chinese communities abroad.

Details: In October, people in China used AirDrop, an Apple feature allowing users to share files and images with other devices nearby, to evade online censors and disseminate photos of a protest banner hung on a bridge in Beijing that called for an end to COVID restrictions and for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.

  • But a Nov. 9 update to Apple's mobile operating system limited the AirDrop feature in the Chinese market. The update automatically disables sharing after 10 minutes for anyone outside of a person's contacts, making it harder for such images to be shared widely in China.
  • Apple previously wrote in a statement that the Nov. 9 update included "bug fixes and security updates and is recommended for all users." Apple also said it will be rolling the feature out worldwide.

What's happening: In the Bay Area over the past week, hundreds of Chinese international students and others attended solidarity vigils in Stanford, Berkeley and San Jose.

  • Some people have begun referring to the demonstrations in China— the largest there since 1989 — as the "white paper revolution," after the blank sheets of paper some protesters held to criticize censorship and to convey their message without using slogans that could get them detained.

What they're saying: "This hunger strike is inspired by the white paper revolution," VK, one of the two hunger strikers, told Axios. "We have been waiting for this opportunity for 33 years after [the] Tiananmen massacre."

  • "Privacy and freedom of speech is the foundation of a democratic society," said VK, who is a Chinese national residing in California and requested to be identified by his nickname to protect his safety and that of his family and friends in China. "The world including American consumers are not happy that Apple has bowed down to the [Chinese Communist Party]."
  • VK and his fellow protester released an open letter on Monday calling on Apple to "improve worker conditions at the Foxconn facility, stop censoring the Chinese AppStore, restore AirDrop function on iPhone in China, condemn the mass incarceration of Uyghurs."
  • VK said he also attended the protests at Bay Area universities over the past week and that a decentralized but growing network of activists has helped them prepare for their hunger strike.
  • Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

What to watch: VK said they will drink only water and maintain the hunger strike for several days, or as long as they can safely do so without harming their health.

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