Running from tomorrow until Sunday, global business leaders are converging in China to talk with local government about their relationship. This year, Apple CEO Tim Cook is a co-chair at the conference.
Relations with China are definitely more strained than usual at the moment. The US administration is currently threatening to impose significant tariffs on Chinese imports and technology. Apple is also embroiled in its own juggling act regarding differences in attitudes over privacy and freedoms of speech.
The China Development Forum will play host to Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, IBM CEO Ginny Rometty, and Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf amongst others.
The threat of President Trump’s intentions may result in China retaliating with equally significant tariffs on US imports. Apple has previously targeted China as a key growth region for its products, especially iPhone, but tariffs will make its products more unattractive to local competition through higher prices.
Apple’s revenue from the China region fell in the last year although sales of recent devices like iPhone X appear to have reversed its fortunes somewhat. Unlike the US, though, Apple is nowhere close to being the number one phone manufacturer in China – in a market flooded with high-spec Android devices on sale at signficantly lower price levels.
Outside of tariffs, Apple’s core values continue to oppose many of China’s policies of governance.
The cellular Apple Watch is sold in China, but LTE service is almost non-existent, with the government banning Apple Watch LTE access citing security concerns. Apple vaguely indicates that China Mobile and China Telecom will support Apple Watch Series 3 cellular connectivity later in 2018. The carrier China Unicom provides service in select cities.
Apple has also had to pull hundreds of VPN apps from the Chinese App Store in compliance with new Chinese measures on internet security. Tim Cook has said that he hopes that some of these apps will be able to return, in future.
Another big controversy has been the launch of a Chinese iCloud data center. To comply with local law, Apple has begun moving all iCloud data storage for Chinese customers to a local data center in Guizhou. Critics believe this will make it easier for the Chinese government to spy on Apple customers, even though much of iCloud is encrypted.
Tim Cook has always said that Apple believes the best way to enact change is to cooperate and discuss issues, not hide away and shut down doors. He is certainly doing that as co-chair of the Forum, at a time when US-China relations are incredibly fractious.