Apple’s China lesson: Think different, but not too different

“Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook will co-chair the Chinese government’s showcase global business forum next month, underscoring his increasingly high profile here as Apple and other companies wrestle with tough new government demands on cybersecurity,” Yoko Kubota writes for The Wall Street Journal. “When he co-chairs the China Development Forum in March, Mr. Cook will be making his fifth appearance at a newsmaking event in China in little over a year. The development forum is a sought-after event for the world’s business elite due to the rare access it offers to senior Chinese government leaders.”

“It comes as Apple faces myriad challenges in China, including loss of market share to domestic smartphone rivals as well as dealing with new government demands on its operations. This week, Apple will begin shifting customer iCloud data to servers on the Chinese mainland, where experts say it will be more vulnerable to government seizure,” Kubota writes. “Apple is far from the only company to make concessions to China. But the company faces a special challenge maintaining a consistent global branding image given its roots as a company that challenged convention, said Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. ‘Apple, for many years, has embraced the idea ‘think different,’’ Mr. Calkins said. ‘And yet it’s become clear that in China you can’t think too different.'”

“While many Apple users in China have no complaints, some are troubled by its dual standards for China and the rest of the world. One customer who bought an iPhone at a Beijing Apple Store recently said the company’s image had suffered by agreeing to store data in China. That ‘makes Apple no more a great company,’ the person added,” Kubota writes. “Next month’s China Development Forum will now provide a starring role for Mr. Cook… [He] will be joined by dozens of international business luminaries, including Boeing Co. Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg, BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Larry Fink, GlaxoSmithKline Chief Executive Emma Walmsley and billionaire investor Peter Thiel, according to a release by the state-founded China Development Research Foundation on Monday.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote last July:

China is critical for Apple in every way from sales to product assembly, so Apple continues to kowtow to China.

With Apple’s strong stance – in other places of the world – on users’ rights and privacy, it’s a bad look for the company and a tough tightrope that Tim Cook — [winner of Newseum’s 2017 Free Expression Award in the Free Speech category, no less] — is trying to walk.

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U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy blast Apple CEO Tim Cook for removing VPN apps from App Store in China – October 20, 2017
Apple issues statement regarding removal of VPN apps from China App Store – July 31, 2017
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Apple sets up China data center to meet new cybersecurity rules – July 12, 2017
Analyst: China iPhone sales are pivotal for Apple – June 26, 2017
In bid to improve censorship, China to summon Apple execs to discuss stricter App Store oversight – April 20, 2017
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Apple to set up second R&D center in China – October 12, 2016
Apple’s first R&D Center in China will develop hardware, employ 500 – September 29, 2016
Apple CEO Cook ‘pretty confident’ of soon resuming movie and book sales in China – May 3, 2016
Apple’s biggest China problem: iPhone’s strong encryption – May 2, 2016
The New Yorker: What Apple has to fear from China – April 30, 2016
Carl Icahn out of Apple over worries about China’s ‘dictatorship’ government – April 29, 2016
China could slam door on Apple, says top global risk expert – April 25, 2016
China’s increasing censorship hits Apple, but Apple might punch back – April 22, 2016
China shutters Apple’s online book and movie services – April 22, 2016
Apple CEO Tim Cook joins Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ board of directors – April 6, 2016


  1. Pepsi was also sold in USSR. Tasted heavenly, I would say better than now. For me it was like a glimpse of fresh air, taste of America and freedom.
    I guess if Apple refused to follow China law, there would be no iPhones in China, only fake iPhones. Like there would have been no Pepsi in USSR. That would be worse to everybody.
    Chinese citizens have to deal with their problems themselves, they have a right to vote and they could uprise if they wish. If the do not, why would anyone else care. Apple is not god who punishes wrong and changes governments. Chinese people should get their shit together.

  2. I guess money speaks loudly in China. They’re balancing the risk of losing the China market (and possibly cheap manufacturing) vs Protecting User Security in the face of Governments.

      1. Poor try.

        I’d actually attempted to post two previous images, but WordPress freaked at them. I’m guessing it was due to their size. This third image, it liked. So maybe WordPress is racist.

        My response to this image: I know full well that even today far too many people whose skin happens to have more pigment than mine happen to feel this is virtually what they’re forced to do every day of their lives if they want to ‘get along’ inside our various white male dominated insecurity-overcompensation-systems whereby ‘others’ of some sort are oppressed in order to make the insecurity-overcompensation-shiteheads feel good about themselves. I have a long lecture on this subject, from which I spare you.

        IOW: In my Inner World, color is irrelevant. How we each treat our fellow humans is what’s relevant. As a whole, we humans are still on the level of monkeys regarding our species-self-awareness and respect. I consider us to still be profoundly primitive in that respect. If there are aliens observing us, I suspect they haven’t got the slightest interest in interacting with we self-loathing war mongerers. And so forth…

  3. Cook is one of the best CEOs amongst most other companies. His main responsibility is the well-being and financial interest of his company’s shareholders. If one complains about Cook’s PR ability and activities in China, how about other US and numerous other foreign companies who would do just about anything to make more dollars in China for their shareholders?

  4. Come on, this is not difficult to understand. If you do business in a country, you have to abide by that country’s laws. If the US were to legislate into law that all communications companies will need to provide a backdoor to their systems (like the FBI demanded), Apple will have to do just that. The EU is soon going to mandate that all non EU companies will have to pass on user information (even those that occurs outside of EU) when EU law enforcement asks for it. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes.

    China with iPhones available is better than China with no iPhones.

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