FORTUNE -- The big tech news in China this month, in case you missed it, is the state-run media's high-profile campaign against Apple (AAPL) and its alleged discriminatory return and repair policies.
For two weeks front-page stories in the People's Daily and broadcasts on China Central Television (CCTV) have blasted the company for its greed, dishonesty and "unparalleled arrogance."
The issue, according to a prime-time CCTV broadcast viewed by hundreds of of millions, is that Apple has been charging Chinese iPhone buyers first-world prices but giving them third-world treatment -- following one set of customer-service policies in the U.S. and a second, weaker set in China.
The proof, according to English-language accounts of the broadcast, is that defective iPhones brought in for service in China were being replaced not with brand new phones, but with iPhones cobbled together from refurbished parts.
We've read a lot -- and written a lot -- about what seems to be a government-orchestrated media crusade: About the fake messages of anti-Apple outrage fed to social media celebrities; about the blowback from Chinese customers more loyal to Apple than to their government; about the five theories that have been put forward by China watchers to explain what's behind it all.
But we haven't read anything about the actual differences between Apple's customer service policies in the U.S. and China.
Apple spokespeople, well aware that China is now the company's second largest market, have declined to comment for the record. Instead, they point reporters to the company's published repair and return policies.
I've read them. You can too.
Although the language is different, I couldn't find any policy differences between them. Both offer 14-day returns with full refunds. Both offer 1-year warranties against hardware defects that either, at Apple's discretion, 1) repair the defective product, 2) replace it with a new or refurbished product (emphasis ours) or 3) return the customer's money. Both guarantee replaced or repaired products for 90 days or the life of the original warranty, whichever is longer.
If Americans are getting iPhones cobbled together from refurbished parts -- just like the Chinese -- where's the discrimination?
One possible explanation, it occurred to me, is that the Chinese customers complaining on camera might have purchased gray market iPhones from shady resellers. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal's account of the CCTV broadcast, it focused only on Chinese resellers, not Apple-owned stores.
But that shouldn't make a difference. According to Apple, the company provides the warranty on its products no matter where they're purchased.
So what, exactly, is China's beef?
UPDATE: Several readers have pointed out that European Union consumer laws require Apple to honor claims of defective hardware for 2 years from date of delivery (See the UK for an English language version). If what the Chinese government wants is that kind of service, perhaps it should pass its own consumer protection laws.
Consumer protection? Negative marketing? Negotiating ploy? Payback? Squeeze?
FORTUNE -- The drumbeat hasn't stopped.
Not only has China's Central TV been running regular follow ups to its March 15 expose on Apple's (AAPL) iPhone repair policies, but on Thursday People's Daily -- the Communist Party's official propaganda organ -- attacked the company for the fourth day in a row, devoting half a page to negative articles.
"One reported on a patent infringement suit lodged against Apple MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 28, 2013 2:17 PM ET
The state-run media attacked as "a brain-dead product of the Cultural Revolution"
FORTUNE -- In the middle of a war of words between his customers and the government of his second largest market is probably the last place CEO Tim Cook wants to be right now. But that's where Apple (AAPL) finds itself today, according to Popularity helps buffer Apple from Chinese state-media attacks, an item that moved on the Reuters newswire Wednesday morning.
It's the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 27, 2013 10:44 AM ET
The plot was revealed when actor Peter Ho left "Post around 8:20" on his Weibo message
FORTUNE -- Are the anti-Apple (AAPL) messages that appear on social media -- including blogs like this one -- the work of saboteurs paid by Cupertino's competitors?
I've often heard this claim, but never seen any hard evidence, which is what makes the story of China's "820 Party" so interesting.
The tale unfolded on Tea Leaf Nation, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 16, 2013 2:30 PM ET
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