iTunes' customers in China complained this week that they were unable to access the online music store and said they received error messages when attempting to visit the Web site.
Apple says iTunes does not support access to its U.S. store from outside the country, but many users insisted they were able to visit the store from locations in China prior to this week's uproar.
China.org, the government's official Internet Information Center, said in a post this week that Chinese citizens find the album Songs Of Tibet, available for download from iTunes, offensive. It claimed that China's "netizens," who rank first among the world's nations in sheer numbers, have called for a boycott of all Apple products, including the iPhone, even though it is not yet available in China. The site also said China's Internet users want to bar the album's singers, including Sting, John Mayer, and Dave Matthews, from entering China.
China.org publishes government position papers, offers government-approved news, and serves as the Chinese government's Internet portal.
iTunes users in China vented their frustrations on Apple online support forums and speculated on the reasons behind the apparent service outage. Initially, several believed their failure to access the store was due to technical problems with equipment, power problems from thunderstorms in China, or network difficulties.
But discussions quickly turned to whether the Chinese government deliberately blocked access to censor music available through the store, which recently released Songs Of Tibet. The album features Western artists promoting Tibetan independence -- a concept that's an anathema to China's Communist leaders.
One user on Apple's discussion boards published what he said was a response from "Bryan," whom the user identified as an iTunes support rep. Bryan, according to the user, said Apple didn't block iTunes access for users in China but added that the iTunes Store is restricted in parts of the country.
"I would advise that you contact your ISP about this matter," Bryan stated. "Please note though that accessing the U.S. iTunes store outside of the geographic region of the United States is not supported, and attempting to access it while in China is at your own risk."
Apple has not released any official statements regarding the matter.