Apple CEO Tim Cook appeared for an interview during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month where he praised the Chinese tech industry even as Chinese app developers have produced applications that share user data with the Chinese government.
In a June 16 interview with the Chinese state-run publication China Daily during the conference, Cook praised the “innovative and inspiring developer community in China.”
In his interview with China Daily, Cook said, “Today the iOS developer community is 30 million strong. We are so proud of that and with more than 5 million Chinese developers and counting, there’s no question that China has one of the most vibrant developer communities in the world.”
“Small developers in China have seen their revenues almost double in just over two years,” Cook said later on in the interview. “This is phenomenal. I can’t tell you how inspired I am by the innovation and creativity you’ve brought to your work throughout the entire pandemic you’ve really poured your heart and souls into delivering incredible apps that help people stay active and entertained and productive, learning and healthy.”
As Cook ended the interview, he said, “When we created the app store no one could have guessed that there would one day be five million registered developers in greater China alone and many more that are working on an app it just shows the creativity and vibrancy of the app economy Chinese developers have always been at the cutting edge and I think that will continue to grow and I cant wait to see what you’re going to do next.”
As the Washington Free Beacon noted, China Daily has courted controversy in the past for publishing articles and op-eds that dismiss allegations of human rights abuses against the minority Uyghur population in China’s Xinjiang province.
In addition to granting an interview to a publication that works at the direction of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and which has denied human rights abuses, the South China Morning Post reported Cook also met on the sidelines of the Apple conference with Liu Wei and Lin Jiashu.
In addition to co-founding the phone game miHoYo, the Washington Free Beacon reported Liu also serves as the secretary for his gaming company’s internal CCP organization.
Even without Cook meeting with these controversial Chinese figures, Apple has already taken several steps to ensure it can continue to operate in China. In December of 2020, the Tech Transparency Project reported Apple blocks access to apps in the Chinese market that might offend the Chinese government and has instructed Apple TV producers to avoid portraying the Chinese government in a negative light.
The New York Times reported that since 2017, Apple has moved all of its Chinese user data to China onto computers owned and run by a Chinese state-owned company. Apple also updated the language in the Chinese iCloud terms and conditions to now allow the Chinese government “access to all data that you store on this service.”
While Apple is willing to hand over data to the Chinese government, it has previously refused to help U.S. law enforcement officials by unlocking Apple devices owned by suspects in criminal investigations. Apple initially denied an FBI request to install software onto the phones of one of the two deceased 2015 San Bernardino mass shooters. A federal judge eventually compelled Apple to allow investigators to install the software to access the shooter’s phone.
In 2020, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr similarly accused Apple of refusing to help investigators access the Pensacola Navy base shooter’s phone. The Department of Justice ultimately gained access to the shooter’s phone with the help of an outside contractor who successfully bypassed the shooter’s phone password.