Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a talk on Saturday to attendees of the China Development Forum 2017, where he offered commentary on a range of issues including globalization, economics, and data privacy.
The annual forum is a high-profile conference in which senior Chinese government officials, global corporation leaders, institutions, and scholars gather to discuss major issues including Chinese economic reform and the country's relationship with the wider world. Other tech CEOs at this year's event included IBM's Ginni Rometty and Siemens' Joe Kaeser.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Cook chose to focus on the perceived merits of globalization during his speech, calling its impact on the world "great" in general, while noting the currently uneven distribution of its economic and cultural gains. Despite shortcomings – and amid calls from the Trump administration to direct investment inwardly – Cook encouraged China and other countries to bet on a future of more balanced development by opening themselves further to foreign investment.
"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 Cook. "I think the reality is you can see that countries in the world... that isolate themselves, it's not good for their people."
In general, Cook's comments largely avoided sensitive Chinese political issues. On the subject of data privacy and cybersecurity, for example, Cook reiterated previous statements made about the importance of encryption to protect user information from state hackers and other bad actors. "We think that an individual should own their data and should be able to control their data," said Cook, while avoiding any explicit criticism of Chinese cybersecurity policy, which in its current form only serves to tighten state control over information flows and technology equipment within the country.
In contrast to outspoken political stands taken at home – such as last year's very public encryption battle with the FBI – the tone of Cook's comments reflected Apple's historically mindful approach to Sino relations, with the company having previously fallen foul of China's restrictive internet policies. Given Apple's ongoing efforts to crack China's booming smartphone market, combined with heavy investment in research and development facilities in the country, Cook's cautiousness aligns with Apple's strategy of sidestepping issues that could significantly damage future negotiations.
As part of his China trip, Tim Cook is also scheduled to speak with Xu Lin, director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, in a private meeting on Monday.
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