Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook made his first appearance at China’s World Internet Conference, using the surprise keynote to call for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity.
Cook made the comments on Sunday at the opening ceremony for the conference — an event designed to globally promote the country’s vision of a more censored and controlled internet. It’s the second Chinese appearance in two months for the executive, who met with President Xi Jinping in October.
“The theme of this conference — developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”
Cook and Google chief executive Sundar Pichai are both making their first trips to the event. The attendance of leaders from two of the world’s most valuable tech giants lends credibility to China’s efforts to influence the global internet so it better resembles its own.
Cook’s comments come at a pivotal point for the company’s future in China, which is now its biggest market outside of North America. It relies on the sale of hardware and services in the world’s most populated country to propel revenue and profit growth. But the efforts required to stay in China’s good graces are causing tensions with civil libertarians and politicians at home.
He said Apple’s operations in the country began three decades ago with a handful of employees. Today, it helps support more than 5 million jobs in China, including 1.8 million local mobile app developers, he added.
Apple has come under fire for cooperating with Chinese authorities in removing apps that give users there uncensored communications. In November, Apple complied with government orders to pull Microsoft Corp.’s Skype phone and video service from the Chinese version of its popular app store. Cook used an earnings call with investors to justify such moves, saying it obeyed the laws of the markets where it operates.