SAN JOSE (California): The Chinese government has ordered Apple to remove WhatsApp and Threads from its Chinese App Store, the US tech giant said, reported German news agency (dpa).

The Chinese internet regulator cited national security concerns when issuing the order to remove the two Meta-owned apps, the iPhone-maker told The Wall Street Journal and other US media in a statement late Thursday.

China’s “Great Firewall”, the term used to describe Beijing’s system of internet censorship, had already prevented the foreign apps from being accessed domestically.

But users had been able to download the apps and use VPNs – which redirect data traffic so that it appears to come from outside the country – to bypass the Chinese blocks.

Beijing's measure now closes one of the biggest loopholes in its firewall.

Mobile apps have become a flashpoint in US-China relations.

A bill is advancing through the US Congress that would force a sale of the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance.

In Washington, there have been fears for years about ByteDance's access to user data. The latest legislation has support among both Republicans and Democrats.

The legislation would lead to TikTok being banned from US app stores if the service remains in the possession of ByteDance.