March 18, 2017 1:19 a.m. ET
BEIJING — Apple Inc.’s Chief Executive Tim Cook defended globalization in a rare public speech in China, as his company faces political pressure in the U.S. to bring back factories.
Mr. Cook also said data privacy was one of the company’s values, although he stopped short Saturday of criticizing decryption demands from governments as Apple has previously in the U.S. It was his first time speaking at the China Development Forum, an annual conference sponsored by China’s central government. It came as part of a broader charm offensive in China as Apple announced two new research centers.
Mr. Cook said in his hourlong session that globalization “in general is great for the world,” but gains aren’t evenly distributed within countries. While he said this was a problem, he cautioned against countries retreating from globalization as a response.
“I think the worst thing would be to–because it didn’t help everyone–is to say it’s bad and do less of that,” said Mr. Cook. “I think the reality is you can see that countries in the world…that isolate themselves, it’s not good for their people.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has made American manufacturing revival a key goal and has called on Apple to bring back iPhone production. That has raised concerns in China, the main manufacturing base for Apple and many other global companies.
Mr. Cook didn’t directly address the issue of bringing production back to the U.S. Saturday, beyond his defense of globalization. Analysts have said it would be difficult to make iPhones in the U.S. in a cost-effective way, although it might be possible to move limited production of other Apple products back.
Mr. Cook’s comments on privacy Saturday reflected the sometimes awkward line that U.S. companies walk as they try to do business in China. In the U.S., Apple has clashed publicly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation over its demands for the company to help decrypt an iPhone’s data.
China last year passed a controversial cybersecurity law that requires companies to provide technical assistance to authorities in investigations. But executives generally shy away from criticizing Chinese policies publicly, as it rarely results in policy change and often draws blowback.
Mr. Cook spoke in general about data privacy on Saturday, saying that Apply encrypts data end-to-end to prevent “hackers and so forth” from accessing it.
“We think that an individual should own their data and should be able to control their data,” Mr. Cook said.
For Western executives, speaking at the annual China Development Forum is seen as a move to improve government relations with Beijing, as many senior Chinese officials attend the event. Mr. Cook hasn’t previously spoken there, and rarely appeared in public in China. Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the China Development Forum last year, but the social network has made little progress in staging a return to China, where it is blocked, and people familiar with him say he doesn’t want to return until there is progress. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t on the speaker list this year.
Mr. Cook is also scheduled to introduce China’s top internet regulator, Xu Lin, in a closed-door discussion among business executives about security and internet regulation on Monday.
Tripp Mickle contributed to this article.
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Apple CEO Tim Cook says globalization is ‘great for the world’ in China speech
Apple CEO Tim Cook offered remarks on globalization, cybersecurity, encryption, international relations and more during a rare public appearance in China, part of the executive’s attempts to woo Chinese consumers.
Apple CEO Tim Cook meets Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong in Beijing in 2015.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Cook delivered commentary on world affairs during an hour-long address on Saturday at the China Development Forum, an annual conference sponsored by the Chinese government. The heads of western corporations sometimes attend the convention to bolster ties with high ranking officials in the Chinese central government, the report said.
During his speech, Cook said globalization “in general is great for the world,” but noted socioeconomic gains may not be evenly distributed within or between countries. Despite globalization’s shortcomings, countries should not shy away from such development, he said.
“I think the worst thing would be to — because it didn’t help everyone — is to say it’s bad and do less of that,” Cook said. “I think the reality is you can see that countries in the world…that isolate themselves, it’s not good for their people.”
The subject is a contentious one for Apple, a U.S. company that farms out a bulk of its manufacturing operations to China. President Donald Trump recently called for Apple to bring iPhone production to America, a move that would stimulate the domestic economy. Trump has asked the same of many U.S. multinationals in attempts to repatriate overseas jobs.
Beyond economics, Cook touched on cybersecurity and user privacy, both highly sensitive subjects in China. Parroting past statements on the matter, Cook said Apple employs end-to-end encryption to protect its customers from nefarious actors. He fell short of taking a stand against Chinese cybersecurity policy that requires companies to furnish authorities with technical assistance in investigations and data gathering operations.
Unlike the U.S., where Apple is an outspoken critic of government snooping — and last year went to court to fight Federal Bureau of Investigation demands to decrypt an iPhone — China is handled with kid gloves. Companies and individual who publicly oppose government mandate, especially when it comes to topics like cybersecurity, privacy and free speech, are often met with swift retaliation. At times, government responses can negatively impact business relations, which could be catastrophic to the bottom lines of companies like Apple.
Cook tiptoed around the subject of data privacy, saying, “We think that an individual should own their data and should be able to control their data.” He has made similar statements in the past, often using harsh words to condemn state-sponsored snooping, but the claws didn’t come out today in China.
Cook is in China to bolster relations with the country’s central government. Apple’s top executive is slated to speak with Xu Lin, director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, in a private meeting on Monday.
Tags: Apple, Apply encrypts data end-to-end, China, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, data privacy, encryption, Facebook, FBI, globalization, iPhones, Mark Zuckerberg, production of iPhones in the U.S., Tim Cook, U. S.