Apple CEO Meets With China’s Vice Premier: A Guide

March 28, 2012

Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, was in town to meet with the usual folks, including China’s Vice Premier, Li Keqiang. Here’s how the meeting was reported by the official Xinhua News Agency:

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said Tuesday that China will strengthen intellectual property rights protection and continue to transform its economy, when meeting CEO of Apple Tim Cook in Beijing.

“To be more open to the outside is a condition for China to transform its economic development, expand domestic demands and conduct technological innovation,” Li said.

He said that trade and economic cooperation together are an “important cornerstone” for the cooperative partnership featuring mutual respect and reciprocity that China and the United States are endeavoring to establish.

The vice-premier called on multinational companies to expand cooperation with China, actively participate in the development of the western part of China, pay more attention to caring for workers and share development opportunities with the Chinese side.

Cook said Apple will strengthen comprehensive cooperation with the Chinese side and conduct business in a law-abiding and honest manner.

Li highlighted the importance of development of new technologies and industries for a healthy recovery and strong, sustainable and balanced growth of world economy.

He said the Chinese government will make more efforts to strengthen innovation and cultivate strategic emerging industries.

OK, I can see that you’re confused. Apple has so many high-profile China matters pending right now, and those are the non-issues that came up at this high-level meeting? Certainly they spent their time more productively, right?

After all, Apple has the Foxconn/labor/Mike Daiseyish host of problems to deal with, then there are the usual IP and investment problems, telecom partner issues, regulatory matters and, oh yeah, a bit of a trademark fight on their hands. That’s a full plate right there. Certainly Cook would take this opportunity to do some politicking and work the refs, right?

Don’t worry, I’m sure that was all handled appropriately. You just have to translate this stuff the right way. Consider the comments made by an Apple spokesperson, as reported by Reuters:

“Tim is in China meeting with government officials. China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth there,” said Carolyn Wu, China spokeswoman for the maker of iPhones, iPads and iPods.

See how the game is played? Let’s translate some of that language:

“We look forward” means that Apple is going to be around a long time. Another way to say “We are your partner.”

“Greater investment” means not just more money flowing into projects here, but more jobs, technology transfer, etc. Compare Apple’s fiscal position, for example, with other unnamed companies that are bankrupt and unable to invest in China.

“Growth” is in there to emphasize the forward-looking nature of the remarks.

“China is very important to us” is another way of suggesting that Apple is important to China.

When taken together, what is Apple saying here? Perhaps “Hey, China, Apple is your best bud. We employ tons of folks down South, bring in technology and cash, and keep your kids happy with our products. By the way, how about something, you know, for the effort? Maybe you can help me fix this parking ticket contract dispute.”

While we don’t have a transcript of the meeting or a direct statement from Cook, we do have the Xinhua account of Li’s statement. Just platitudes you say? Well, there certainly wasn’t any reference to any of the issues Apple is dealing with in China, but that would make it way too easy.

How about that reference Li made to intellectual property? Yeah, I know, Apple has many different IP challenges in China, but we all know which one is foremost in the minds of everyone these days. Hmm. Interesting.

Li also called upon multinationals to help China develop the western part of the country. If Tim Cook announces a new facility in Chengdu in the near future, I’d say the fix is in and that little trademark problem might go away very soon.

On the other hand, it’s possible they just talked about sports or the weather. You never know.