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Apple CEO Tim Cook attends China Development Forum 2018. Photo: Visual China Group via Getty Images

China is home to most of Apple's manufacturing and accounts for a significant and growing share of its sales. At the same time, doing business in China requires the company to make significant concessions that run counter to the company's positioning as a protector of the "human right" of privacy.

Between the lines: Apple says that it's simply following local laws in China, as it does elsewhere. However, China's "local laws" require granting the government access to a great deal of user content, as well as severely limiting what can be said about a wide range of issues, from Taiwan and Tibet to mentions of the 1989 Tienanmen Square uprising.

The big picture: A report from the New York Times Monday highlights the impact of these choices, contrasting how a new data center in China will operate compared to how Apple does business elsewhere.

Among the differences highlighted in the report:

  • The servers in the new data center are physically managed by the Chinese government.
  • Apple can't use its traditional encryption systems and has to store the keys to unlock encrypted data on the same servers.
  • The Times said its analysis "found that tens of thousands of apps have disappeared from Apple's Chinese App Store over the past several years, more than previously known, including foreign news outlets, gay dating services and encrypted messaging apps."

The other side: Apple, for its part, says the New York Times report contains assertions that are "based on incomplete, outdated and inaccurate information."As for the decisions about granting government access to user data and censoring apps, Apple says it is simply following local laws, as it does elsewhere.

  • "These decisions are not always easy, and we may not agree with the laws that shape them," Apple said in a statement. "But our priority remains creating the best user experience without violating the rules we are obligated to follow."

Our thought bubble: The dilemma of doing business in China is simple — you either decide that you want to be there and you follow its rules or you don't.

  • But if you do, and you're a Big Tech company, you will likely be forced to support state surveillance and censorship.
  • It's tough to do make that choice and simultaneously argue that privacy is a fundamental human right, as Apple does.

Go deeper

Aug 18, 2021 - World

Scoop: CIA director raised China concerns with Israeli prime minister

The U.S. has raised concerns about Chinese investment in the Port of Haifa project. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty

While visiting Israel last week, CIA director Bill Burns told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett the U.S. was concerned about Chinese investments in Israel, particularly in the tech sector, and involvement in major infrastructure projects, Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: That's the highest level at which the Biden administration has raised an issue that previously became a rare point of contention between the Trump and Netanyahu governments.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.