WASHINGTON — For months, Apple and Google have been fighting a bill in the South Korean legislature that they say could imperil their lucrative app store businesses. The companies have appealed directly to South Korean lawmakers, government officials and the public to try to block the legislation, which is expected to face a crucial vote this week.
The companies have also turned to an unlikely ally, one that is also trying to quash their power: the United States government. A group funded by the companies has urged trade officials in Washington to push back on the legislation, arguing that targeting American firms could violate a joint trade agreement.
The South Korean legislation would be the first law in the world to require companies that operate app stores to let users in Korea pay for in-app purchases using a variety of payment systems. It would also prohibit blocking developers from listing their products on other app stores.
How the White House responds to this proposal poses an early test for the Biden administration: Will it defend tech companies facing antitrust scrutiny abroad while it applies that same scrutiny to the companies at home?
executive order to spur competition in the industry, and his top two antitrust appointees have long been vocal critics of the companies.
The approach the White House chooses may have widespread implications for the industry, and for the shape of the internet around the world. A growing number of countries are pursuing stricter regulations on Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, fragmenting the rules of the global internet.
American officials have echoed some of the industry’s complaints about the proposal, saying in a March report it appeared to target American companies. But trade officials have yet to take a formal position on it, said Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the United States Trade Representative. He said officials were still considering how to balance the claim that the legislation discriminates against American companies with the belief among tech critics in South Korea and America that the legislation would level the playing field.
“We are engaging a range of stakeholders to gather facts as legislation is considered in Korea, recognizing the need to distinguish between discrimination against American companies and promoting competition,” Mr. Hodge said in a statement.
Apple said that it regularly dealt with the United States government on a range of topics. During those interactions it discussed the South Korean app store legislation with American officials, including at the U. S. Embassy in Seoul, the company said in a statement.
The company said the legislation would “put users who purchase digital goods from other sources at risk of fraud, undermine their privacy protections, make it difficult to manage their purchases” and endanger parental controls.
A Google spokeswoman, Julie Tarallo McAlister, said in a statement that Google was open to “exploring alternative approaches” but believed the legislation would harm consumers and software developers.
The proposal was approved by a committee in the Korean National Assembly last month, over the opposition of some in the Korean government. It could get a vote in the body’s judiciary committee as soon as this week. It would then require a vote from the full assembly and the signature of President Moon Jae-in to become law.
The proposal would have a major impact on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store.
The Google store accounted for 75 percent of global app downloads in the second quarter of 2021, according to App Annie, an analytics company. Apple’s marketplace accounted for 65 percent of consumer spending on in-app purchases or subscriptions.
One way software developers make money is by selling products directly in their apps, like Fortnite’s in-game currency or a subscription to The New York Times. Apple has insisted for years that developers sell those in-app products through the company’s own payment system, which takes up to a 30 percent cut of many sales. Last year, Google indicated it would follow suit by applying a 30 percent cut to more purchases than it had in the past. Developers say that the fees are far too steep.
After South Korean lawmakers proposed the app store bill last year, the Information Technology Industry Council, a Washington-based group that counts Apple and Google as members, urged the United States Trade Representative to include concerns about the legislation in an annual report highlighting “barriers” to foreign trade. The group said in October that the rules could violate a 2007 accord that says neither country can discriminate against firms with headquarters in the other.
Apple said that it was not unusual for an industry group to provide feedback to the trade representative. The company said the government had explicitly asked for comment on potentially discriminatory laws. In a statement, Naomi Wilson, the trade group’s vice president of policy for Asia, said that it encouraged “legislators to work with industry to re-examine the obligations for app markets set forth in the proposed measure to ensure they are not trade-restrictive and do not disproportionately affect” American companies.
When the trade representative’s report was published in March — just weeks after Mr. Biden’s nominee to the position was sworn in — it included a paragraph that echoed some of the tech group’s concerns. The report concluded that the South Korean law’s “requirement to permit users to use outside payment services appears to specifically target U.S. providers and threatens a standard U.S. business model.”
The American report did not say the law would violate the free trade agreement with South Korea. But in July, the managing director of a group called the Asia Internet Coalition, which lists Apple and Google as two of its members, pointed to the report when he told Korea’s trade minister that the law “could provoke trade tensions between the United States and South Korea.”
“The Biden administration has already signaled its concerns,” the director said in a written comment in July.
American diplomats in Seoul also raised questions about whether the legislation could cause trade tensions.
“Google said something like that, and a similar opinion was expressed by the U.S. Embassy in Korea,” said Jo Seoung Lae, a lawmaker who backs the legislation. He added that the embassy had been in touch with his staff throughout June and July. Park Sungjoong, another lawmaker, also said that the embassy had expressed trade concerns about the law.
Mr. Jo said that a Google representative had visited his office to express opposition to the proposal, and that Apple had also “provided their feedback” opposing the legislation.
Mr. Jo said that he had requested that the United States provide its official position, but he said he had not received one yet.
American trade officials sometimes defend companies even when they are criticized by others in the administration. While former President Donald J. Trump attacked a liability shield for social media platforms, known as Section 230, his trade representative wrote a similar provision into agreements with Canada, Mexico and Japan.
But Wendy Cutler, a former official who negotiated the trade agreement between South Korea and the United States, said that it would be difficult for America to argue that the Korean rules violate trade agreements when the same antitrust issues are being debated stateside.
“You don’t want to be calling out a country for potentially violating an obligation when at the same time your own government is questioning the practice,” said Ms. Cutler,now the vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “It weakens the case substantially.”
South Korean and American app developers have run their own campaign for the new rules, arguing it would not trigger trade tensions.
In June, Mark Buse, the top lobbying executive at the dating app company Match Group and a former board member of a pro-regulation group called the Coalition for App Fairness, wrote to Mr. Jo, the Korean lawmaker, supporting the proposal. He said that the Biden administration knew about concerns around the tech giants, making trade tensions less likely.
Later that month, Mr. Buse attended a virtual conference about the app store legislation hosted by K-Internet, a trade group that represents major Korean internet companies like Naver, Google’s main search competitor in South Korea, and Kakao.
Mr. Buse, who traveled to Seoul this month to press the case for the legislation on behalf of the Coalition for App Fairness, made it clear that his employer considered it a high-stakes debate. He listed the many other countries where officials were concerned about Apple’s and Google’s practices.
“And all of this,” he said, “is following the leadership that the Korean assembly is showing.”
SYDNEY, Australia — All across the Asia-Pacific region, the countries that led the world in containing the coronavirus are now languishing in the race to put it behind them.
While the United States, which has suffered far more grievous outbreaks, is now filling stadiums with vaccinated fans and cramming airplanes with summer vacationers, the pandemic champions of the East are still stuck in a cycle of uncertainty, restrictions and isolation.
In southern China, the spread of the Delta variant led to a sudden lockdown in Guangzhou, a major industrial capital. Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia have also clamped down after recent outbreaks, while Japan is dealing with its own weariness from a fourth round of infections, spiked with fears of viral disaster from the Olympics.
the new outbreak in southern China will affect busy port terminals there. Across Asia, faltering vaccine rollouts could also open the door to spiraling variant-fueled lockdowns that inflict new damage on economies, push out political leaders and alter power dynamics between nations.
The risks are rooted in decisions made months ago, before the pandemic had inflicted the worst of its carnage.
blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine meant for Australia to control its own raging outbreak. Other shipments were delayed because of manufacturing issues.
“The supplies of purchased vaccine actually landing on docks — it’s fair to say they are not anywhere near the purchase commitments,” said Richard Maude, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Australia.
with the United States and Europe.
In Asia, about 20 percent of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with Japan, for example, at just 14 percent. By contrast, the figure is nearly 45 percent in France, more than 50 percent in the United States and more than 60 percent in Britain.
Instagram, where Americans once scolded Hollywood stars for enjoying mask-free life in zero-Covid Australia, is now studded with images of grinning New Yorkers hugging just-vaccinated friends. While snapshots from Paris show smiling diners at cafes that are wooing summer tourists, in Seoul, people are obsessively refreshing apps that locate leftover doses, usually finding nothing.
“Does the leftover vaccine exist?” one Twitter user recently asked. “Or has it disappeared in 0.001 seconds because it is like a ticket for the front-row seat of a K-pop idol concert?”
keep its borders closed for another year. Japan is currently barring almost all nonresidents from entering the country, and intense scrutiny of overseas arrivals in China has left multinational businesses without key workers.
The immediate future for many places in Asia seems likely to be defined by frantic optimization.
China’s response to the outbreak in Guangzhou — testing millions of people in days, shutting down entire neighborhoods — is a rapid-fire reprise of how it has handled previous flare-ups. Few inside the country expect this approach to change anytime soon, especially as the Delta variant, which has devastated India, is now beginning to circulate.
has threatened residents with fines of around $450 for refusing vaccines. Vietnam has responded to its recent spike in infections by asking the public for donations to a Covid-19 vaccine fund. And in Hong Kong, officials and business leaders are offering a range of inducements to ease severe vaccine hesitancy.
Nonetheless, the prognosis for much of Asia this year is billboard obvious: The disease is not defeated, and won’t be anytime soon. Even those lucky enough to get a vaccine often leave with mixed emotions.
“This is the way out of the pandemic,” said Kate Tebbutt, 41, a lawyer who last week had just received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Royal Exhibition Building near Melbourne’s central business district. “I think we should be further ahead than where we are.”
Reporting was contributed by Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan, Ben Dooley in Tokyo, Sui-Lee Wee in Singapore, Youmi Kim in Seoul and Yan Zhuang in Melbourne, Australia.
HONG KONG — As tear gas and fiery street clashes swirled around her two years ago, the Hong Kong painter Bouie Choi wondered how she would eventually render them on canvas.
The answer, exhibited at a local gallery about a year later, was “borrowed space_borrowed time,” her suite of brooding, ethereal landscapes that evoked ancient Chinese scroll paintings and captured a city transformed by civil unrest. Specific visual references to the protests were subtly blended into layer upon layer of washed-out acrylic brush strokes.
“My previous landscape works were quite peaceful and distanced from what happened in reality; they were more surrealistic,” Ms. Choi, 33, said in an interview. “But this exhibition was quite different because the relationship between me and the city had changed.”
street art and political posters that lionized protesters as heroes or explicitly poked fun at Hong Kong’s government and its allies in Beijing. Some of that work was produced by people with established careers in fine arts.
a national security law that China’s central government imposed on the territory last summer and the mass arrests of opposition politicians, activists and lawyers that followed.
Artists, writers and filmmakers know that whatever they create could run afoul of the national security law, which criminalizes anything that the Chinese government deems terrorism, secession, subversion or collusion with foreign powers. Institutions like art galleries are wary of taking risks. One curator said privately that talking about art and politics was especially sensitive ahead of Art Basel Hong Kong, a major international fair that opens this week.
Some Hong Kong curators have been quietly asking artists to tone down certain pieces, consulting with lawyers about how to avoid prosecution under the national security law and even calling the police to discuss potentially sensitive works before exhibiting them, said Wong Ka Ying, a member of a union that represents about 400 Hong Kong artists.
“We now act like we’re in Beijing or Shanghai,” she said.
Yet several young Hong Kong artists are daring to produce work about the 2019 protests anyway, albeit with heavy doses of abstraction and ambiguity. A few talk about their artistic process in polemical terms; others, like Ms. Choi, say they are merely responding creatively to the experience of living through a once-in-a-generation trauma.
pro-democracy demonstrations that are now seen as preludes to the giant outpouring of civil disobedience in 2019.
Eight years ago, for example, the artist South Ho walled and unwalled himself with bricks that said, “Made in Xianggang,” the word for Hong Kong in Mandarin, mainland China’s dominant tongue. Photographs of his stunt were exhibited in 2017 by the Asia Society’s Hong Kong gallery, alongside other pieces that conveyed a sense of helplessness toward Beijing’s tightening grip on the city.
Now the space for expression is narrower. A government funding body recently said that it had the power to end grants to artists who promote “overthrowing the government,” and state-owned newspapers have denounced a collection by a local museum that is expected to open soon and owns works by the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
More than a dozen Hong Kong artists and gallerists either declined to be interviewed for this article or did not respond to requests for comment.
traffic scene on wire mesh to depict fences that went up near a cross-harbor tunnel that antigovernment protesters targeted in 2019. He also used yellow tape to frame walls where the authorities had painted over antigovernment graffiti.
Unreasonable Behavior,” a mixed-media solo show by Siu Wai Hang that included photographs of the 2019 protests that the artist had punched, ripped or cut.
Teenage girls with bricks,” an abstract work with collapsing perspectives and vague pastel figures. The gallery’s curatorial statement said the work depicted female protesters who had been discouraged by male comrades from joining the front lines of street clashes.
And this spring, at the Asia Society’s Hong Kong gallery, the artist Isaac Chong Wai installed “Falling Carefully,” a mixed-media piece featuring three life-size mannequins of the artist, each suspended in a different stage of free fall. A nearby wall displayed his sketches of protesters and riot police officers during antigovernment demonstrations in Hong Kong and beyond, including Armenia, Russia and Uganda.
fell, suffering fatal injuries, as police officers clashed with protesters.
Henry Au-yeung, the director ofGrotto Fine Art, the gallery that exhibited the paintings last fall, wrote in an essay that they depicted “social unrest,” but also that “clear images do not mean clarity of event; what is veiled can well be the hidden truth.”