Cook’s visit to China should be seen amid bigger picture of opportunities
Published: Mar 25, 2024 10:33 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Amid hype by US politicians and media outlets about geopolitical tensions, Apple CEO Tim Cook has become a frequent visitor to China. He is actually in a position to attract public attention, as his visit, to some extent, mirrors the complexity of China's interactions with the world economy. 

However, some Western media outlets have reached a simplistic conclusion that associates Cook's visit with falling iPhone sales in the Chinese market. Such a narrow perspective prevails, as his trip was hyped by those reports as "a push by the company to reverse a decline in iPhone sales in its most important international market." 

CNN published an article on Thursday under the headline: "Tim Cook is on a charm offensive in China to revive flagging iPhone sales." However, speeches delivered by Cook in the following days added to evidence that his trip, encompassing various fields, was much richer than those reports predicted.

Cook said on Friday that China is an important market and a key supply chain partner for Apple due to its rich talent resources and strong innovation vitality. During Cook's China visit, Apple held a sharing session with Chinese suppliers such as BYD and Lens Technology, signaling the US company's ongoing investment in its supply chain in China.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is another highlight. Cook said that AI is an essential tool for helping businesses reduce their carbon footprint, as he reportedly joined a climate change dialogue on Sunday at the China Development Forum. 

It is no secret that the iPhone giant is playing catch-up in the generative AI boom. According to media reports, Apple has held preliminary talks with Chinese internet giants to bring their AI technologies to iPhones sold in the Chinese market.

Apple is facing tough competition in China, which is an inevitable result of the rise of China's smartphone brands. Apple appears to be facing an uphill battle to reverse falling iPhone sales in China, but this is not the whole story. The depth and breadth of contemporary cooperation between Apple and China's supply chains, their economic systems, and the company's development of cutting-edge technologies are beyond what some Westerners could have imagined.

Although Cook's visit to China this time coincided with reports that Apple's iPhone sales in China fell 24 percent year-on-year in the first six weeks of this year, according to consultancy estimates, public records show that he has visited China more than 20 times in total. Looking at a longer time span, what Cook witnessed during his visits to China was a significant increase in sales of Apple products in the country.

Apple is typical of US companies that still see a profitable future in China, supported by multiple factors and the Chinese government's commitment to further open up the economy to foreign investors, although numerous media outlets reported a drop in iPhone sales amid fierce competition with Chinese companies.

Recently, some short-term volatility in China's receipt of foreign direct investment (FDI) has fueled a new round of commentary about the "China collapse theory," which has repeatedly been struck down by reality. 

In the eyes of some Westerners, FDI in China is declining as foreign companies reduce their dependency on the country. However, the reality is that the depth and breadth of economic cooperation between China and the world are increasing. The huge potential and sound development of the Chinese economy has been providing broad cooperation space and development opportunities for foreign investors. 

With the advent of the digital economy era, the economic picture is much more complex than in previous years because technology knows no borders. For instance, thousands of new developers join the App Store every year, and many of them are from China. Today, the Chinese economy is deeply integrated with the world economy, making important contributions to the development and prosperity of the global economy.

Cook is among a host of business executives who have come to China in recent days. These visits by prominent CEOs demonstrate the enduring attractiveness of China for foreign investment. The essence of economic cooperation is mutual benefit, and there is no winner in a trade war or "decoupling" push. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.