Tim Cook: Apple works with China because ‘nothing ever changes from the sideline’

Apple continues to do business with the Chinese government despite receiving scrutiny and criticism. That business has been Faustian at times — for example, the Cupertino tech giant has removed apps that Beijing does not like.

On Wednesday in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, CEO Tim Cook explained the delicate relationship between his company and China.

“When you go into a country and participate in a market, you are subject to the laws and regulations of that country,” said Cook at the Fortune Global Forum, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Your choice is, do you participate or do you stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be. My own view very strongly is you show up and you participate, you get in the arena, because nothing ever changes from the sideline.”

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Apple has gone through highs and lows in China in the past two years. Once the best-selling smartphone in China, the iPhone has fallen behind domestic smartphones there. In response, Apple doubled down on its efforts to grow in that market, transferring executive Isabel Ge Mahe to oversee its Chinese operations earlier this year.

Despite the concessions it has made, Apple still has had to deal with unexpected headaches from Beijing. Chinese cellular companies abruptly cut off cellular connection to the new Apple Watch in October because the wearable had a SIM card that did not allow Beijing to track those users, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But the biggest scrutiny of Apple came after the company took down more than 600 virtual private network apps from its App Store in July. VPN apps allow Chinese residents to circumvent government surveillance. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, wrote a letter to Cook to ask questions about the move.

“We are concerned that Apple may be enabling the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance of the Internet,” wrote Cruz and Leahy.

Apple’s vice president of public policy, Cynthia Hogan, responded. She said Apple is committed to promoting “fundamental rights, including the right of free expression, by being engaged even where we may disagree with a particular country’s law.”

That has been Cook’s stance during his tour in China this past week. Cook was in the eastern Chinese city of Wuzhen on Sunday to give a keynote speech at the World Internet Conference.

“The theme of this conference — developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” said Cook, according to Bloomberg. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

While Cook preached openness of the internet, other Chinese attendees sang a different tune. Wang Huning, a new member of the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee in China, which governs the country, preached President Xi Jinping’s belief of cyber sovereignty — where a country can freely decide how to govern the internet, even if it means censorship — according to the New York Times.

Jack Ma, founder of the Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, doubled down at the same conference, saying companies will need to respect and work with Beijing’s rules and demands.

“When you determine to come, prepare for it. Follow the rules and laws and spend 10 years,” said Ma. “This is not a market that you can come and go.”

Photo: People walk past an Apple store in Hefei, in east China’s Anhui province, in September 2014. (AFP/Getty Images)


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  • omegatalon

    This is just another reminder to everyone who lines up to buy their new Apple iPhone; Tim Cook is showing where his loyalties are.. this is why Apple has hundreds of $Billions in profits offshore instead of paying US taxes.

  • Thelip95032

    “If you participate with evil, you are evil”
    APPLE always has some PR spin on why they are helping the Chinese government oppress human rights. I was a huge Apple fan boy but realized by buying Apple products I was part of the problem. I dumped my iPhone and went to Android phones, replaced all other Apple equipment when the time came to upgrade. If you are buying Apple products you are helping the Chinese government to abuse people. There is no rationalizing, if you buy Apple products you are part of the problem.

  • Dave

    Tim Cook is a fool if he thinks doing business in China will change the Party’s view on freedom of expression and right of protest. Apple has continually lost market share and will continue to lose market share as Chinese Nationalism by way of Government co-ownership through Communist Party influence which continues to promote domestic products and services. Google is already dead there after they treaded on the Nation’s strict censorship laws. Microsoft is unable to grow its core business in China because the Central Party is concerned about espionage so they knowingly allow hacked versions of Windows. Amazon has been in China for over 20 years yet Alibaba with its ties to the Central Party continues to dominate the domestic retail market. Domestic products will continue to dominate and eventually suffocate the foreign competition because the Central Party is an integral part of every major business in China.