The reality of internet freedom in China has grown grimmer this year. In January, new state regulations ruled that only authorized VPNs could be used in China, making most existing VPN services in China illegal. The international community in China was shocked on July 14 when Waldorf Astoria Beijing stopped providing VPN service to its hotel guests “due to legal issues.” On July 29, the country was hit hard again when Apple announced that it is removing VPN services that do not comply with Chinese law from its China App Store.

Most major VPN providers have been cleaned from the China App Store by now. ExpressVPN, affected by the crackdown, published a blog post condemning Apple’s act as “unfortunate.” Users in China are still able to download VPN apps from their non-Chinese App Store accounts, although they will need an overseas billing address.

express vpn

Screenshot of ExpressVPN’s tweet about Apple’s notification

Apple’s announcement comes as the 19th Communist Party Congress to be held this fall gets closer, which might explain the heightened censorship development recently, Reuters is reporting. Apple has shown a willingness to comply with Chinese rulings amid its new localization efforts. In response to China’s new strict law that requires companies to store customer data within the country, Apple announced on July 12 that it is opening its first data center in the southwestern province of Guizhou. On July 18, Apple named its new Greater China head—a brand new position—to bolster growth at a time the giant is gradually losing ground to Chinese smartphone manufacturers.