This from Katie Benner and Sui-Lee Wee for the New York Times:
In the weeks leading up to the withdrawal of the Times apps, The Times was working on various articles related to the Chinese government. One of them, posted online on Dec. 29, revealed the billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies that the Chinese government provides to the world’s biggest iPhone factory. China is also one of Apple’s largest iPhone markets, though sales in that region have slowed.
On Dec. 23, David Barboza, a Times reporter, spoke with members of Apple’s media team about the article. Mr. Barboza had previously been in touch with the iPhone factory owner, Foxconn. He had also contacted the Chinese government as part of his reporting.
Later that day, a separate team from Apple informed The Times that the apps would be removed, Ms. Murphy said.
This is pretty curious timing from Apple and the Chinese government. China is a huge part of Apple's sales-base, not to mention the core of their distribution. They can play tough with the US government when it comes to things like cracking individual's iPhones, but it doesn't look like they have any interest in standing up to their golden goose.