Apple CEO Tim Cook’s continued kowtowing to China is a very bad look

Ben Lovejoy for 9to5Mac:

China poses a triple threat to Apple. First, the escalating trade war between the US and China… Second, China could, at the stroke of a pen, announce changes that hurt Apple’s sales in the country or impair its manufacturing operations. Just ask the NBA. Third, even if neither of these things come to pass, the PR hit Apple is taking from being seen to surrender to unreasonable demands from a country with a poor record on human rights is only going to get worse… Reputational damage is a very dangerous thing: just ask Activision Blizzard

Apple can’t act overnight. As we’ve noted before, moving production out of China would be a Herculean undertaking… Apple is working on this, with new manufacturing plants in India, Vietnam, Indonesia and elsewhere. But my view is that it probably needs to accelerate these efforts such that it could, if necessary, abandon China as a manufacturing base altogether.

Anything could happen, but right now the smart money isn’t on Apple’s relationship with China getting better. The company needs to be prepared for the worst – even if that means sacrificing sales there.

MacDailyNews Take: There exists a dichotomy that screams hypocrisy that is impossible to overlook:

Apple CEO Tim Cook, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ 2015 Ripple of Hope Award for “his lifelong commitment to human rights,” who subsequently took a place on the board Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights the following year, and winner of Newseum’s 2017 Free Expression Award in the Free Speech category, no less also aids and abets China’s commitment to violating human rights with serial regularity.

Two phrases immediately spring to mind:
• Do as I say, not as I do.
• Talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

Accepting awards, plaudits, and board positions for “free speech” and “human rights” while banning publications and protest apps are tough actions to reconcile due to their diametrically opposed nature.

For how long can Tim Cook, and by extension, Apple, get away with positioning themselves as the world’s white knight while kowtowing to every whim of the Chinese authoritarian socialist censors?

This is about leadership, or lack thereof.

Obviously, in recent days, this all seems to be coming to a head, but it’s been building for years.

• Apple removes Quartz news app from App Store in China over Hong Kong coverage – October 10, 2019
• Apple kowtows to China by censoring Taiwan flag emoji – October 7, 2019
• Apple Music censors songs in China that reference Tiananmen massacre, democracy – April 9, 2019
Apple removes VPN apps from China App Store – July 29, 2017
• In bid to improve censorship, China to summon Apple execs to discuss stricter App Store oversight – April 20, 2017
• Apple removes New York Times apps from App Store in China at behest of Chinese government – January 4, 2017

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.MacDailyNews, July 29, 2017

Closing quotes:

• It’s about finding your values, and committing to them. It’s about finding your North Star. It’s about making choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything. — Tim Cook

• You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. It’s a false choice, today more than ever. — Tim Cook

• You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change. — Tim Cook

• There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate — when a particular course of action just feels right. And interestingly I’ve discovered it’s in facing life’s most important decisions that intuition seems the most indispensable to getting it right. — Tim Cook

• For some things where we… [have] a strong point of view, we’re not shy. We’ll stand up, speak out – even when our voice shakes. — Tim Cook

• The most important thing is, Do you have the courage to admit that you’re wrong? And do you change? The most important thing to me as a CEO is that we keep the courage. — Tim Cook

And furthermore:

38 Comments

  1. I say good on Tim Cook. He needs to do everything in his power to keep China happy whilst manufacturing bases are slowly moved elsewhere. To all the TC naysayers – look at the Apple share price. Something is being done right.

    1. I pity spineless, immoral apologists like you. Here, listen to the hypocrite, just don’t watch what he actually does:

      • “You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change.” — Tim Cook

      • “For some things where we… [have] a strong point of view, we’re not shy. We’ll stand up, speak out – even when our voice shakes.” — Tim Cook

      • “The most important thing is, Do you have the courage to admit that you’re wrong? And do you change? The most important thing to me as a CEO is that we keep the courage.” — Tim Cook

    2. Indeed, probably the same people knocking TC for being too slow to move manufacturing/assembly out of China are the same who knocked him for taking years to move chip manufacturing away from Samsung.

  2. Anyone with an IQ in triple figures would have met the original application with “No, that’s not a good idea. Let us help you white-label the app as a global app for live map creators everywhere and we’ll release it with a non-HK specific name” for you to use as you wish.

  3. To all of you who believed that stock buybacks were a good thing, that 300 billion could have been spent in the west, 100,000 people (workers) at 50,000 per year equals only 5 billion a year. Hint the Porsche Taycan is being built in Germany with UNION labor.

    1. That US$300B did not disappear in the Apple stock buybacks. People/companies who sold AAPL back to Apple received that money and were able to invest/spend it across the economy as they saw fit. They can start businesses, hire workers, build/expand facilities…

      This is cynical, but I wonder where those 100,000 workers could be found in one place in the U.S. My son worked for a local supermarket and had a difficult time finding someone who was reliable and could be trained to bag groceries and stock shelves. Apple would have to initiate a massive relocation and training program to staff manufacturing facilities in the U.S. Rememberer that we are talking over 200M units per year…

  4. It is easy to criticize. Frankly, I am getting sick and tired of MDN’s pontificating on what Apple should do. The MDN staff struggles to manage a half-decent news aggregation website, but it somehow expects Apple to solve the China problem? Let’s be clear, the China problem is a global political issue, not a business issue. However, by maintaining an operational presence in China, I believe that Apple is making at least a small contribution to the evolution of that society.

    Any discussion on this topic should begin by acknowledging the progress that Apple has made in China with respect to working conditions and pay. Apple did not have to do this. What other company has put in anywhere near the effort into improve and monitor working conditions throughout its supply chain?

    The next step in this discussion would be to acknowledge that Apple has to abide by the laws in China and every other country in the world in which it operates. That is not always an easy or pleasant thing to do. In the case of China, the government could shut down Apple’s servers, obstruct manufacturing and shipping (which would affect Apple’s business worldwide), implement a patriotic smear/threat campaign to kill sales within China, or a combination of those and more.

    The final step in this discussion would be to acknowledge the effort and US$B that Apple has already invested in diversifying its supply chain and manufacturing vendors. There are many components in an Apple device, and Apple would have to have alternate paths for all of them. Apple has made some good progress in the areas of display and processor suppliers, and the company is pursuing assembly operations in other countries. Apple clearly has a long way to go, but I seriously doubt that anyone on the MDN staff or on this forum could do half as well.

    I am not saying that Apple is perfect or without blame. But I am getting sick and tired of people inventing or exaggerating reasons to disparage Apple, especially on this forum.

      • MDN is not pontificating. That’s what Cook does constantly.
      • MDN is merely pointing out Apple’s and Cook’s hypocrisy. It’s painfully obvious, but some denser people need it to be stated plainly.
      • MDN does far more than mere aggregation. As you well know.
      • I like MDN’s site, love their content, and the efforts they’ve made to improve the site over the years!

      1. Well, you are entitled to your opinion. I disagree with it and you are apparently unable to comprehend the validity of my earlier post. Yet you call me dense.

        Pontificate: To express opinions in a pompous or dogmatic way. Yes, MDN often pontificates.

        Apple has core values. Cook has core values. But neither the company nor Cook can act upon those core values in every instance. If you don’t understand that, then you are incapable of dealing with the real world. You do the best that you can and live to fight another day. In the end, the only people who can fundamentally chance China are the Chinese people. It would do no good for Apple to draw the line iron this app and face the wrath of Chinese leadership to the detriment of the entire company and the U.S. I assume that you approve of the tens of $B in taxes that Apple pays to the U.S. each year.

        MDN is a news aggregation site. They define themselves as such. MDN simply adds commentary to the article excerpts that are posted and throws in a few polls. There is nothing wrong with aggregating content from other sources, and MDN provides credit to the sources and links to their websites. But that does not change the fact that MDN is a news aggregator. You weaken your argument when you post clearly false assertions.

        I don’t care if you love the site. Unless you have been on this forum for twenty years or so, your love of the mediocre means nothing to me. I remember the MDN of old when SteveJack presided as MDN’s Nostradamus and the commentary was wittier and more prescient. The MDN of today is but a shadow of the past.

        So, Regular Reader: wrong, wrong, wrong, and I don’t care

        1. We know you don’t care if you’re wrong (which you are). Apple making billions the backs of the chinese people who have no voice is the ultimate wrong here. And when it comes right down to it, Cook only cares about the bottom line–and “human rights” when is merely a ‘feel good’ convenience for him when it is expedient..

          1. Those are your opinions, and they appear to lack consideration of real-world issues and realities.

            First, I do care when I am wrong. But I can’t spend a lot of time worrying about when other people are wrong. There is not enough time in the day…

            Second, Apple has pushed hard to improve the lot of Chinese workers at Foxconn including higher pay, improved working conditions, limits on weekly work hours, etc. Apple cannot change China singlehandedly, but it can (and has) made efforts to improve conditions within its area of influence. Those little changes can add up to a revolution over time if everyone does their part. Where is Dell? Microsoft? Others? Where is the U.S. Government?

            Your interpretation of Cook’s character is utterly ridiculous. I have no doubt whatsoever that Cook cares deeply about human rights. He has had to face the baser side of human nature over the years. In many places in the U.S. he could be summarily fired just for being who he is, and that is a terrible condemnation of our society.

            The fact that Cook has to consider business interests in his role as CEO does not mean that he does not care about human rights and other core values. Honestly, what would you have Cook do? He is in a no-win situation. When he stands up for core corporate values against a government, he is branded as an activist who is endangering the company by alienating customers (usually by people on the far right). When he complies with pressure from China at the threat of legal/government action, he is branded as a hypocrite that prioritizes profits over values (usually by people on the far left). I am a moderate who abhors these useless displays of partisanship and uncompromising extremism.

            If you were my employee and you were coming to me with these complaints, I would ask you to propose some potential solutions. How would you handle this situation if you were actually responsible for the potentially very serious consequences?

      1. “Polite applause” from CitizenX means what you’ve just typed is wrongheaded nonsense, most likely America-hating and/or Apple-hating, too. He loves to hate.

        “Polite applause” from CitizenX is a stamp of bullshit.

  5. Why is an American company so willing to toady to China? Because of all their business interests tied to China. Almost 20% of its market comes from China. Its supply chain is based out of China. It’s an American company but it’s exceedingly dependent on China. This isn’t the first time that they’ve caved to China and it likely wouldn’t be the last.

    Kowtowgate needs to be called out loudly as the scandal it truly is.

    Removing an app that helps protesters avoid problems with the Communist-controlled police is not in the interests of public safety. Removing an app that dares report the truth about what’s going on is not in the interests of public safety. And removing an emoji that denies the truth may soothe the delicate feelings of China. But it does no service to free speech or the truth.Nick Arama, RedState, October 10, 2019

    1. What is Mr. Arama’s alternative that would keep that app on the Chinese App Store? If Apple refused to pull it, China would simply block access to the App Store entirely. Then the app in question would still be unavailable, but so would every other app, throwing all the Chinese iOS developers out of work, dropping new iPhone and iPad sales in China to zero, and making the existing devices worthless when the apps stopped working. How is THAT “a service to free speech?”

      Apple has no leverage. China knows that every company with a significant US customer base is moving manufacturing out of China as fast as they practically can. Throwing Apple out now would simply be hastening the inevitable. For Apple, shutting down China before they have an alternative would be a body blow.

      Hindsight is 20/20. When Apple went into China in a big way, there was every reason to believe that economic freedom was increasing, political freedom was slightly improving, and the People’s Republic wished to take a role in the international network of free trade, respect for intellectual property, friendly relations with other nations, etc. Today, Chinese policy is to extirpate anything and anyone in the PRC and its orbit that isn’t culturally Han, linguistically Mandarin, religiously atheist, and politically subservient to the President for Life.

      The US was assembling an international partnership to counter China, but the present Administration abandoned that as literally its first official act. That leaves Free World companies in the position of extricating themselves as rapidly as they can. They cannot exit faster than is possible.

  6. Tim should stand on stated principals, and if China strikes back, then it will make getting out of there easy, as there will be no other options.

    Its amazing how fast things can happen when you have no other choice.

    Will there be a impact and issues, undoubtedly. Apple should have known this a long time ago and started working much faster at not having all the eggs in the China basket.

    1. If Tim publicly opposed China, then China would cripple Apple’s business. The price of AAPL would plummet, hundreds of billions of dollars of value would be lost, and investors (and, likely, the White House) would be screaming for Cook’s head on a pike.

      Somehow, Macinfo, I doubt that you are a paragon of virtue, yourself. How many times during a day, week, month, year, do you stretch your personal principles because of need, convenience, rationalization, exhaustion, or just out a sense of futility – that it won’t make any difference. More than a few times, I suspect. It is easy to talk the talk, but much more difficult to walk the walk. If you entire livelihood were threatened, I wonder how strongly you would stand on your own principles.

      Apple needs to survive while it cultivates alternatives. Any other course of action would be disastrous and accomplish litter or nothing with respect to effecting positive change to China’s government and society.

      1. Hey Mel. does insulting me, make you a paragon of virtue? I don’t need to compromise my principals, I know the difference between right and wrong, You just seem to want the compromise.

        Of course Apple would get hammered, I’d said so, that’s the price you pay for dumb decisions. Course you seemed to have missed that part, I guess I didn’t spell out enough

        There are ways to avoid being put in compromising positions Mel, so I don’t have to worry about such issues.. Course one can lose their job at any time, you go out and look for another..

        Apple is supporting a country that has a terrible record of human rights and its not getting any better, it’s all an illusion and communists are good at that, because they can control everything you see and hear, they don’t call it state run media for nothing… Its almost the same here in the USA now.. piles of media morons lying to us all daily with some rare exceptions.

        You assume that somehow Apple is actually making things better there, perhaps in some ways they did, lots of people made I-Products.. but if Tim Cook is going to go around and make value statements as a SJW. Perhaps he needs to walk the walk and not just talk the talk..

        1. I never claimed to be a paragon of virtue, Macinfo. I know better than that. I temper my idealism with realism.

          What gives you the right to call manufacturing iPhones and other Apple products a dumb idea? You do realize that a whole lot of companies manufacture their products in China? There are reasons for that which are not compnsidered to be “dumb.” Apple has poured billions into diversifying its supply chain and has positioned some manufacturing in other countries. But is it hard to replace a Foxconn factory with 100,000 employees and the abilities to rapidly staff up to meet demand. Get a frigging clue on real life.

          When you stand on your principles and lose your job, well that is just you. I am willing to do the same if the situation warrants it. However, if Apple were to anger China in a major way, then you are talking tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of billions in lost wealth that represents retirements, education, homes… It isn’t the same thing at all.

          I was going to say that I am sorry to have offended you. But if you can’t handle the truth then I really don’t care about your overly sensitive nature. Wrong is wrong.

    2. @Macinfo “Tim should stand on stated principals”

      Reminds me of a Marx Brothers quote:
      “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others”

  7. Great, MDN calls out Cook for being a hypocrite. He is a global corporate executive, so that’s not surprising.

    Will MDN also call out their hypocritical orange hero as well?

    When Xi Jinpeng extended his party chairmanship to a lifetime — a massive power consolidation essentially crowning himself a dictator, Trump said, “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

    In the very same rambling fundraiser speech, Trump insulted US leaders, saying “Here we are, like the dummies of the world, because we had bad politicians running our country for a long time.” Trump of course failed to mention that the useless metric he cares so much about, the cash trade balance between the US and China, has gone the exact opposite direction from the repeated Trump claims he will balance. And on MDN, more hardware purchases from China are encouraged. Every iPhone buyer pushes cash toward China and gets nothing but Chinese-assembled electronic mobile phones in return. Funny how many hypocrites there are in the world.

    In other interviews, Trump sounds off such incoherent blather that nobody knows what team Trump is playing for. “Look, I like China, and I like [President Xi Jinping] a lot.” he claims. “I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Well isn’t that interesting. Apparently Trump has much more in common with Crook Dick Nixon than thinking Americans previously realized.

    Regarding Hong Kong, the Trump administration is offering zero support for the democracy-demanding patriots. Trump instead continues to shower praise on Chinese premier Xi Jinpeng, claiming Xi acted “very responsibly” in reaction to the protests. Reporters however show that China is amassing significant military assets around Hong Kong and politically controlling a puppet Hong Kong leader while the fringe elements of the protestors become increasingly agitated.

    Don’t get your hopes up for another beautiful letter from Xi to Trump, it’s very obvious that the ascendant global power isn’t wilting in front of the unparalleled genius who flip flops around in a fact free existence of media games and Fox TeeVee. He can’t be bothered getting advice from anyone in the federal government who, at least in the past, were the best diplomats prepped by the best intelligence sources in the world. Under this administration, bluster and bluffing are all we see. Tariff threats to tax US consumers when the wage differential and China’s ability to manipulate its currency can instantly neutralise anything Trump attempts.

    Cook meanwhile is setting up another shell company in the Caymans to park his last round of executive bonuses. Maybe Cook is dictating another speech about family values. He thinks that’s what modern business leaders are supposed to do.

    1. Woe is me; another endless epistle from Mike. While there are a few valid points in your post, no one is going to read your newest book-length post to sift out the gold nuggets from the tons of muddy dregs. Can’t you make a few point succinctly and let us then analyze them and respond ?

      You almost immediately veered from the subject so you could trash talk the “hypocritical orange hero” whom you apparently think anyone who might not agree with your points regarding any subject at hand must love and support because you hate him. Look, Trump uses sarcasm and humor a lot in his speeches; sometimes it’s effective and sometimes it fizzles. So what? In his comments about the Chinese leader he wants to squeeze. his economic nuts under the table while outwardly keeping his engaged in negotiations and dialogue and enabling him to save face on the world stage. Don’t you get it? You could never function as a negotiator because all you see is “I’m right, and everyone else is wrong.” There are lengthy and difficult steps to get the satisfactory desired compromises. You might think about it before you spout off.

  8. So… how does Apple stand up to China exactly? By not removing the HKmap.live app from the App Store? And then what happens? To folks outside of China and Hong Kong, not much. But what about the Apple employees in China and HK? Who would the Chinese and HK police come for? Not Tim Cook in Cupertino, that’s for sure.

    So one way to look at this is as Apple corporate protecting their Chinese and HK workers. And for all the grief Apple gets about manufacturing quality of life and responsible materials acquisition, you’d think it’d be just as important now, or even moreso.

  9. Russia’s Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev said, “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within….””

    Nikita’s words didn’t manifest in his lifetime, but maybe he was prescient. Communism and revolution are two inseparable words, but he was envisioning revolution without the battle. I’m not aware of Xi believing/stating victory in the same manner (Nikiita thought if would be related to morals), but Xi is “requesting” compromise that involves our capitalistic/democratic system.

    In the end, China’s “requests” do involve the moral sense, if we admit, our love of $$ is displacing our foundation of freedom and sovereignty. It’s a “pinch me” moment to acknowledge the “displacer” to whom we bow, is awash in ruthless and inhuman practices that have been occurring for decades.

    The sky hasn’t fallen, nor am I personally absolved in this mess, btw. Like afarstar1, I hold the shabby/hypocritical hope that this entire matter can be resolved before my stock holdings are dented. Like the fish that is boiled while the pot’s gradual temp increases without notice, I think-mutter, “Tim; do what you have to do to minimize our/my financial peril. Thank you.”

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