Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday said the tech company had no choice but to remove VPN services from its China store.

"We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business," Cook said in a call with analysts on quarterly financial results. "We strongly believe in participating in markets and bringing benefits to customers is the best interest of the folks there and in other countries as well."

The current crackdown on the individual use of VPNs is believed to be related to the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in autumn. There have been reports from overseas Chinese media outlets of an internal power struggle within the Politburo Standing Committee, since the majority of its members are expected to retire this year. Authorities do not want sensitive political news smuggled via domestic networks.

Although it may come as a surprise to some, Apple's decision was anticipated. On July 12, Apple announced that it would partner with a Chinese data management company in opening a new data center in compliance with the Chinese Cybersecurity Law, which requires companies to store Chinese users’ data in China.

On July 29, United Kingdom-based company ExpressVPN published a notification it received from Apple about the removal of VPN apps from its China store “because it includes content that is illegal in China.”

Express VPN criticized Apple for “aiding China's censorship efforts” which “threaten free speech and civil liberties.”

VPN is an application that allows Internet users to circumvent censorship by creating a secure and well-hidden connection to another network in a different geographic location.

Additional reporting from Global Voices here.

Editor: Edward White