Did NYT’s Mandarin Translations Cause Trouble for Apple?

In what was seen as capitulation to Chinese censorship and its own outsourcing interests, yesterday Apple announced it was removing the NYT app from its app store in China, in response to vague “local regulations.”

“For some time now the New York Times app has not been permitted to display content to most users in China and we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations,” Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, said of the Times apps. “As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store. When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China.”

Deep in its story on the move, NYT tied the moment China first told Apple to remove the app — December 23 — to a story it would later publish on the subsidies Apple gets in association with the Foxconn iPhone factory in Zhengzhou and to a blog post on “a seven-and-a-half-minute phantasmagoria of the Communist Party’s nightmares of Western subversion.”

In the weeks leading up to the withdrawal of the Times apps, The Times was working on various articles related to the Chinese government. One of them, posted online on Dec. 29, revealed the billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies that the Chinese government provides to the world’s biggest iPhone factory. China is also one of Apple’s largest iPhone markets, though sales in that region have slowed.

On Dec. 23, David Barboza, a Times reporter, spoke with members of Apple’s media team about the article. Mr. Barboza had previously been in touch with the iPhone factory owner, Foxconn. He had also contacted the Chinese government as part of his reporting.

Later that day, a separate team from Apple informed The Times that the apps would be removed, Ms. Murphy said.

In another article, published on Dec. 22 as a post on its Sinosphere blog, The Times described an anti-Western internet video that had been widely promoted by Chinese public security offices.

Both of those stories were translated into Mandarin.

Indeed, the more substantive of the two stories — on the Foxconn subsidies — linked to a series of other NYT articles, a number of which were also translated into Mandarin:

Unsurprisingly, the article describing the move was also translated.

I’ve been tracking NYT’s practice of translating select stories into Mandarin since 2015, when a story on what seemed to be retaliation for the OPM hack got translated into Mandarin. While the choice of which stories get translated can seem somewhat arbitrary (which is part of why I’m interested), many of the stories — especially the post on the video, which covers the equivalent of the anti-Russian fever we’re engaging in here — seem focused on highlighting Chinese corruption or counter-propaganda/counter-intelligence efforts.

More recently, I noted that the NYT story on the DNC hack (which was very favorable to the DNC) got translated into Russian.

As the NYT story notes, Apple apps for other major US outlets have not been taken down. But the NYT one has.

As we discuss Apple’s capitulation — and it is that — I want to renew my focus on NYT’s decision-making process on what to translate to make more accessible to the citizens of other countries.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

3 replies
  1. Mitchell says:

    You do business in a nation pursuant to that nation’s laws. And I suppose in a situation like this, it’s on the Times, not Apple to push back. If they care.
    But, really, have you read the Times lately? Maybe their presence in China’s needed as some sort of sabotage because as a source of honest reporting, it’s nothing to get excited over.

  2. Ed Walker says:

    Those subsidies to US companies are part of China’s long-term industrial planning. I wrote about it at FDL in this post on a report from the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, and a phone call set up for Clyde Prestowitz, who was co-chair of the commission. Here’s my post: https://shadowproof.com/2009/11/22/china%E2%80%99s-industrial-policy-vs-us-random-behavior/
    This, however, is the first time I have heard of China subsidizing a Taiwanese company.

    It gives examples of China’s use of this kind of subsidy and others to gain access to important US trade secrets.

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