In late March, when Tim Cook made his first public appearance in China since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Apple Inc.’s chief executive officer approached it with all the delicacy of a high-stakes diplomatic visit. Cook took colleagues to an Apple retail store in Beijing and met privately with high-ranking government officials to discuss the company’s operations. “This has been a symbiotic kind of relationship that I think we both enjoyed,” he told the audience at a state-sponsored technology conference, in an appearance at which he also announced the expansion of a multimillion-dollar rural education program in the country.
One of the signature achievements of Cook’s career at Apple has been his work crafting its relationship to China, which is unusually positive compared with those of other US tech companies. Over more than two decades, Apple has built a vast manufacturing and assembly operation in the country involving thousands of business partners. There are more than 40 Apple stores in mainland China, and Apple draws almost 20% of its revenue from its “Greater China” region, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong.