Editor’s note: This was contributed by Tianyu M. Fang, a Boston-based freelance writer on Chinese tech and culture, and an independent researcher on US-China relations. Previously, he lived in Beijing, where he worked closely with China’s tech startup community. 

Among the ten customers lining up inside a Starbucks store in Beijing, I seemed to be the only one who showed up at the cashier with an iPhone, ready to pay for my breakfast with Apple Pay. It was my turn: a grande-size latte, and a ham and double cheese bagel. “WeChat or Alipay?” asked the barista.

Apple Pay did not enter the Chinese market until 2016. The two homegrown Chinese payment services were released much earlier: Tencent’s WeChat Pay in 2014, and Alibaba’s Alipay in 2004. While WeChat Pay and Alipay rely on QR codes, the American tech giant opted for the solution that turns your phone into a virtual tap-and-go bank card with NFC, a technologically more secure alternative. When Apple signed a contract with China’s UnionPay – which owns the QuickPass contactless technology similar to Visa’s payWave – mobile payments had already been commonplace in China. Many had asked: Is Apple Pay able to compete with WeChat and Alipay on their home turf?

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Tianyu Fang

A Boston-based freelance writer on Chinese tech and culture, and an independent researcher on US-China relations. Previously, he lived in Beijing, where he worked closely with China’s tech startup community.