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Apple CEO Tim Cook looks on following a conversation on mental health, during a spousal program on the last day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Week at Apple Park in San Francisco, California, on November 17, 2023. 

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Apple on Friday said it pulled several messaging apps like Meta‘s WhatsApp and Threads from the App Store in China after the nation’s government ordered the removal, citing security concerns.

The move further escalates tensions between the U.S. and China over technology and other policies. In recent days, Congress has been looking to fast-track legislation to push TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest the social media app. The House could vote on a new bill as soon as Saturday, and U.S. President Joe Biden has said he will sign it into law if it reaches his desk.

“We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” Apple said in a statement. “The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns.”

Other messaging platforms like Signal and Telegram were also removed from China’s App Store.

The strained relationship between the two countries has also pushed Apple to try and diversify its supply chain outside of China. The company has been expanding its manufacturing operations in other nations like India and Vietnam.

China has a long history of restricting access to content from the U.S. online, but some platforms like WhatsApp and Threads have historically been permitted through its App Store. These platforms are not as popular with Chinese users as others like WeChat, but their removal reduces the number of ways they can communicate with people outside of the country.

Meta directed CNBC to Apple for comment. Signal and Telegram did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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