China will be Apple's largest market: CEO Tim Cook

Updated: 2013-01-12 08:44


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BEIJING -- China is no doubt the apple of Tim Cook's eye.

Apple's CEO, who is on a China visit this week and has been impressed by the significance of its secondary market, said on Thursday that new Apple products may possibly be launched in China in the future.

"I would love that to happen. China is a very important marketplace for us," said Cook in an exclusive interview with Xinhua in Beijing.

"China is currently our second largest market. I believe it will become our first. I believe strongly that it will," he said.

"We are growing very fast. We are continuing to invest in retail stores here and will open many more over the next several years. We have some great sites selected, our manufacturing base is here, and we have incredible partners here. So it's a very very important country to us."

Apple now has 11 retail stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu and Hong Kong. The one opened last October in the commercial hub of Wangfujing in Beijing is the largest in Asia.

With Cook's ongoing visit including intensive meetings with government officials, business partners, Apple employees and customers, he described these encounters as "productive" and "successful."

The tech chief did not, however, disclose details about his talks with China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and China Unicom, which is Apple's first business partner in China.

He said he enjoyed working with China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom and praised their competence.

Not being an early bird to the Chinese market, Cook seems to have tried hard to make up for missed opportunities. He has visited China for three consecutive years as a senior Apple officer.

"People around the world, regardless of culture, really want the best products. I think they love that people at Apple create products that make their lives easier and better. That's what we try to do," he said. "I feel really good about our progress in China."

Cook did not respond to the latest rumor about launching cheaper iPhones for some new emerging markets including China. Instead, he tried to emphasize the suitability of all Apple products for Chinese consumers.

"There are no Apple products that you would look at and say they are not for China. I think they are all perfect for China," he said. "I strongly believe that people from all cultures and countries want the best product. That's what we are trying to do."

On Foxconn, Apple's supplier whose factories in China have been stranded in labor disputes, Cook responded by saying that Apple has very strict codes of conduct for suppliers to abide by, and "if they don't, we won't do business with them."

According to Cook, Apple audits deep into its supply chain to make sure that its suppliers are following. And it has tried to go beyond auditing and introduce programs that Apple believes can really changes lives, like education.

"We care very deeply about every worker that touches an Apple product, whether they are making it, selling it, serving it or marketing it. We hold ourselves to a very high standard there," said the CEO.

He recalled his visit last March to the iPhone production line at Foxconn's Zhengzhou technology park. He toured dorms, learned about workers' living arrangements and how they felt about their jobs.

Apple is providing college education in the factories. Cook described meeting with workers who benefited as "some of the best times of my entire life."

With 80,000 employees, Apple generated a net income of over 41 billion U.S. dollars in the fiscal year of 2012.