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What just happened? Between chip-related export controls and tensions over Taiwan, relations between the US and China are at a nadir, but that hasn't stopped many top tech executives, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, from singing the country's praises at the 2023 China Development Forum.
Cook was one of the more than 50 chief senior executives and government officials from around the world to attend the government-organized event in Beijing, the first since its suspension due to the Covid outbreak. The Wall Street Journal reports that Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon was also an attendee, as were execs from Samsung, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Mercedes-Benz, Shell, and many more.
China remains a major market for Apple. Despite iPhone sales being down from the prior year, overall sales from China made up $23.9 billion of Apple's revenue last quarter. "Innovation is developing rapidly in China and I believe it will further accelerate," Cook was quoted by The Paper news outlet. "Apple and China [...] grew together and so this has been a symbiotic kind of relationship."
Cook also announced that Apple was increasing its donations to the China Development Research Foundation to $14.5 million, half of which will fund digital technology education in underdeveloped areas of China.
"We are honored to deepen our understanding of Chinese education, support for careers and create opportunities for young learners in rural areas," Cook reportedly said.
With the Covid disruptions and rising tensions with the US, Apple has been trying to lessen its reliance on China for years – the country accounted for 95.3% of Cupertino's global manufacturing operations in 2021. The pandemic saw Apple move some iPhone manufacturing to India in 2022, the same year that the controversial Covid restrictions caused walkouts at Foxconn's Zhengzhou plant, resulting in a shortfall of iPhone 14 units.
Cook also used his speech to talk about education and the need for young people to learn programming and critical thinking skills. The Apple boss visited Apple stores in the country during his stay, much to the delight of Chinese social media.
Apple has a history of appearing to kowtow to the Chinese government, having previously removed thousands of games, apps, and VPNs from its App Store at the behest of local officials. It also purged a protest app and the Quartz news app during the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.
A report in 2021 claimed Cook signed a secret $275 billion investment deal with China to help Apple succeed in the country.