Apple CEO Tim Cook is to co-chair this year’s China Development Forum – an annual meeting designed to promote dialogue between the Chinese government and global business leaders. Previous co-chairs have included Ford CEO Mark Fields and Caterpillar chief exec Doug Oberhelman.
The WSJ reports that Cook has been making increasingly frequent visits to China.
Mr. Cook, who took over as chief executive from the late Steve Jobs in 2011, has paid increasing attention to China in recent years. He made just one visit in 2012, then twice-yearly visits from 2013-15. Since 2016, he has made at least three public trips annually, according to media reports.
Apple has taken flack for what some consider abandoning the company’s principles in order to appease the Chinese government. The iPhone maker has removed hundreds of apps from the Chinese version of the App Store in response to government demands, and most controversially of all has setup a Chinese iCloud data center run jointly with a company owned by the provincial government. It was confirmed just a couple of days ago that the arrangement includes local storage of the encryption keys that would allow the government to access customer data without having to request it through US courts.
But as we’ve noted before, it’s not like Apple has a choice about any of this if it wants to operate in China at all.
Complying with the law is, of course, not optional. If Apple chooses to operate within a country, then it has no choice but to go along with whatever legislation is introduced there, no matter how much it may disapprove. Its only option of taking the moral high ground would be to pull out of the country altogether – as Google did for a time, after refusing to allow its search results to be censored by the government.
Cook himself has said in the past that engagement is the only way that progress can be made, and that he is optimistic that things can improve.
My hope over time is that some of the things, the couple of things that’s been pulled, come back. I have great hope on that and great optimism on that.
In his speech last year, he talked of the need for China to become a more open society.
Photo of Cook at last year’s meeting: Thomas Peter/Reuters
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