Li vows level playing field
Updated: 2012-03-29 07:48
By He Wei in Shanghai (China Daily)
Vice-Premier Li Keqiang meets Apple CEO Tim Cook in Beijing on Tuesday. [Rao Aimin / Xinhua]
Apple CEO hears country's plans to protect foreign, domestic firms' property rights
The CEO of Apple Inc has won a guarantee about intellectual property rights from the Chinese government at a time when the company is embroiled in a trademark dispute and is trying to curb the smuggling of its popular products.
Tim Cook, Apple CEO, met Vice-Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Tuesday. During their discussion, Li said China is trying to ensure that both Chinese and foreign companies are treated fairly under rules meant to protect intellectual property rights. He was optimistic about the prospects of the country's high-tech industry.
"The global economic recovery needs the impetus of new technologies and emerging industries," Li was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency. "The government will make the most of the development of science and technology to uphold innovation capabilities."
He called for international companies such as Apple to work with local partners and to move into China's central and western regions.
Cook said Apple will work more closely with China in every possible way and will operate in accordance with the law and in good faith.
Also at the meeting was Guo Gengmao, governor of Henan province. Henan has a plant operated by Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwan company that assembles Apple's popular iPhone and iPad products.
"Tim had a great meeting with Vice-Premier Li and other top officials in Beijing," said Huang Yuna, Apple spokeswoman.
"China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth there."
Cook was making his first visit to the country since he took over the top executive position at Apple from co-founder Steve Jobs.
On the trip, Cook visited an Apple store in Beijing and met Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong.
Guo said Beijing residents embrace Apple products and said he is looking forward to seeing closer cooperation between the company and the city.
Sandy Shen, an analyst with the IT advisory firm Gartner Inc, said Cook's trip has laid a good foundation for Apple's expansion in China. The CEO has tried to forge closer ties with Chinese leaders and has sent a signal that Apple is committed to the country.
"It is only a matter of time for Apple to open new stores in addition to the existing five on the mainland," she said.
She said forming a partnership with China Mobile, the country's largest telecommunications operator, will be essential if Apple's sales are to increase greatly.
The company now runs only five outlets on the mainland, although it also retails its products through more than 100 resellers. Apple holds three quarters of the market for tablet PCs in China, and the iPhone ranks as the fifth most popular smartphone in the country, according to figures from the research company Analysys International.
Despite those strong positions, Apple's prospects have been clouded by its ongoing dispute with Proview Technology Shenzhen Co Ltd, which said it owns the rights to the iPad trademark on the mainland. The dispute temporarily hindered iPad sales earlier this year.
Speaking of Cook's visit, Xie Xianghui, a lawyer representing the company, said no arrangements have been made to have Apple executives meet their Proview counterparts.
"However, we are looking forward to Apple extending an olive branch to us," he said. "It will be mutually beneficial if we can reconcile this matter."
The company has sued Apple for violating its trademark and called on Chinese customs authorities to prohibit exports and imports of iPads.
"Cook may be trying to show he is sincere and may be seeking support from the Chinese government, but the dispute won't be settled through a single visit," Shen said. "It still needs to go through a series of legal procedures."
China has become central to many high-tech companies. Mark Zuckerberg, a founder of the social networking company Facebook Inc, was spotted with his girlfriend in Shanghai on Tuesday. The pair visited several shopping districts, as well as the famous renovated residential area Tianzifang and an Apple Store in downtown Shanghai.
Tuo Yannan in Beijing contributed to this story.