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Tim Cook praises Apple’s ‘symbiotic’ relationship with China

Tim Cook has praised Apple’s symbiotic relationship with China despite rising trade and geopolitical tensions between Beijing and the US, and the iPhone maker’s own moves to diversify from the country.

In his first visit to China since the pandemic began in 2020, the Apple chief said the company would this year celebrate its 30th anniversary in the country that makes the vast bulk of its iPhones.

“We could not be more excited,” Cook said at the China Development Forum in Beijing, the country’s version of Davos, which Beijing is holding offline for the first time since the pandemic began. “Apple and China . . . grew together and so this has been a symbiotic kind of relationship.”

Cook is one of several American business chiefs in Beijing for what has been billed as an opening-up party after three years of a strict zero-Covid policy.

In a sign of how positively the US technology company continues to be viewed in what is also one of its biggest markets, Cook’s trip was covered by China’s state media while customers in the group’s flagship store in Beijing broke into applause when he visited the shop on Friday.

The trip comes after one of Apple’s toughest years in China in 2022 as President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid controls savaged supply chains.

Apple’s quarterly revenue in the three months to end-December fell for the first time in three and a half years after “significant” supply chain disruptions in China delayed deliveries of iPhones during the holiday period.

The company’s biggest supplier, Foxconn, faced workforce unrest in Zhengzhou, the eastern Chinese city where analysts estimate 60 per cent of iPhones are made, after authorities locked down the area as part of zero-Covid controls in November.

In the meantime, the US has increased export controls on China’s use of advanced chip technology, souring the atmosphere for large American investors in the country.

Some users on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, posted photos contrasting Cook’s warm reception at his Beijing store on Friday with Shou Zi Chew, the head of Chinese owned short-video app TikTok, getting grilled by the US congress last week.

Cook avoided mention of US-China tensions and supply chain issues, in a session about technology and education at the China Development Forum.

“We have a very large supply chain operation in China and then of course we also have our . . . Apple stores,” he said, adding that the company had millions of developers in the country for its iOS operating system.

“From the moment we hit the ground yesterday, we couldn’t wait to see some of our customers so we went to the Sanliutn store [in Beijing],” he said.

Apple is trying to build up operations in India as part of its diversification strategy, sending engineers and designers to the country for weeks or months at a time to oversee manufacturing. While it has been producing entry level iPhones in India since 2017, it has recently started trying to manufacture higher end models normally made in China.

With additional reporting by Ryan McMorrow

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