Apple boss Tim Cook met Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang during his visit to the People’s Republic this week and reportedly managed to come away with a commitment from the future prime minister to strengthen intellectual property protection for it and other firms in the country.
News broke earlier this week that Cook was in China after photos of him in a Beijing Apple Store leaked onto the web, but a Cupertino spokesperson would only say he was meeting with “Chinese officials”.
What has emerged, however, is a carefully orchestrated and high level trip with the CEO of the world’s richest shiny toymaker reportedly given a reception in the Communist Party HQ of Zhongnanhai usually reserved for visiting foreign state officials.
The state-run Xinhua news agency was pretty vague on the details, but the message from Li seemed to be to encourage foreign companies to invest in China and in return it will strengthen intellectual property rights protection.
"To be more open to the outside is a condition for China to transform its economic development, expand domestic demands and conduct technological innovation," he reportedly said.
Cook in return promised Apple would play nice in China and continue to invest there.
Interestingly, amid the fixed smiles and mutual back-slapping one would normally see at a high level political summit, there was a slight dig at Apple from the vice premier.
In an apparent reference to Apple’s Foxconn woes, he reportedly urged multinationals to invest in western China and “pay more attention to caring for their workers”, according to Xinhua.
Apple is awaiting the results of a Fair Labor Association inspection of Foxconn factories and Cook has spoken out in the past against poor pay and conditions for workers, saying that Apple will micro-manage working hours.
However, NGOs and not-profits persist in their allegations of systemic problems at the plants, including underage labour, harsh management tactics and even exposure to hazardous materials.
There was little information too on exactly how China will look to strengthen its IP laws to help firms like Apple. At the moment it’s in the area of trademark protection that fondleslab-maker could really do with some help, given its on-going dispute with monitor firm Proview over the IPAD name.
Presumably, the trip will nonetheless have been regarded as a necessary one, given Li’s predicted ascension to role of PM next year.
Not to be outdone, Cisco boss John Chambers has also been spotted in the People's Republic this week, in his case visiting Chinese state councillor Liu Yandong.
They reportedly discussed Cisco’s efforts to promote the internet in education and definitely did not mention the technology that the firm has been accused of selling China to help build the Great Firewall. ®