Apple CEO Cook stresses ties with China at Beijing event

Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook returned to China to attend the high-profile China Development Forum to celebrate the iPhone maker’s ties to the region even as tensions grow between Beijing and Washington.

Apple and China have grown together, Cook said during an onstage discussion on technology and education at the state-sponsored showcase on Saturday. He highlighted the company’s concerns about the abuse of technology, given recent strides in artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

“This has been a symbiotic kind of relationship that I think we both enjoyed,” Cook said. Apple plans to increase spending on its rural education program in China to 100 million yuan ($15 million), he said, adding that it was important for children to hone both their coding and critical thinking skills in a fast-changing world.

Innovation will only speed up, and creators of technology need to use them in the “right way” to help humanity, not work against it, he said. “I think that’s a tremendous responsibility for any creator, is to do that.”

Earlier in his trip, Cook stopped at an Apple retail store in Beijing with Deirdre O’Brien, the company’s retail chief, and other executives.

Based on China 

During his trip to China, Cook also met with Chinese government officials. The meetings, along with his attendance at the event, are crucial as Cook seeks to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with the Chinese government. Apple builds the vast majority of its products in China, boosting the local economy, and has unique access to the Chinese market, including the ability to operate dozens of stores, sell products and run multiple online services.

Since Cook orchestrated an expansion in China about a decade ago, the Apple’s products have grown in popularity in the region. The company now counts on Greater China for about 20% of its sales. Led by the iPhone, the Cupertino, California-based company has brought in over $40 billion in China-based revenue each year since 2015 and nearly reached $75 billion in China sales in the last fiscal year.

The relationship is showing signs of fraying, however. Anchored by Foxconn, or Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Apple’s manufacturing presence in China has been broad and unshakable for over two decades.

But the company has suffered snags in production in recent years due to a US and China trade war and Covid-triggered factory closures, delaying launches of products like the 2022 MacBook Air and limiting supply of the iPhone 14 Pro.

The partnership has also exposed Apple to criticism at home about its compliance with Chinese laws on censorship and data storage. The company has made changes to its products in recent years to address Beijing’s concerns, including limiting the AirDrop file-sharing feature in a way that is widely seen as a mode to deter protests. 

Apple’s ongoing efforts to shift some production outside of China could put further pressure on the Chinese economy that is expected to grow at a muted rate of 5% this year. Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly said that he wants to boost high-end manufacturing.

-With assistance from Debby Wu and Mark Gurman.

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