Top executives at Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Facebook Inc (FB.O) managed to find something to praise Beijing for at an internet conference in China this week.
China’s World Internet Conference attracted the heads of Google (GOOGL.O) and Apple for the first time to hear China vow to open up its internet - just as long as it can guard cyberspace in the same way it guards its borders.
The tacit endorsement of the event by top U.S. tech executives comes as China introduces strict new rules on censorship and data storage, causing headaches for foreign tech firms permitted to do business in China and signaling that restrictions banning others are unlikely to be lifted any time soon.
“I’d compliment the Chinese government in terms of leadership on using data,” Facebook Vice President Vaughan Smith said on Tuesday, citing government bodies such as the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
“The Chinese government, the CAC and MIIT are doing a fabulous job on that.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook addresses the opening ceremony of the 4th World Internet Conference in the water town of Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang Province, Dec. 3, 2017. Photo:Xinhua/Zheng Huansong
Facebook and Google aren’t accessible in China behind the country’s Great Firewall, along with major Western news outlets and social media sites, while Apple is subject to strict censorship. The U.S firm removed dozens of popular messaging and virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China App Store this year to comply with government requests.
“The theme of this conference, developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits, is a vision we at Apple share,” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said on Sunday. The audience cheered him twice – once when he reached the podium, and again when he bowed.
Cook has made frequent trips to China over the past year, as the firm has looked to revive sales in the market and make a push into services that require working with local partners on data storage.
“Companies that have sent high-level delegations to this conference in Wuzhen in the past have often done so because there is some type of significant issue with their access to the market,” said an industry source familiar with the event.
Conference guests were connected to the internet in hotels easily, including access to Google, Facebook and foreign news outlets with specialized codes handed out to guests.
“More people come to Facebook than are in China,” said Facebook’s Smith at a talk on digital economy on Tuesday. “(But) I realize not everyone in the room is familiar with Facebook.”
Jack Ma, chairman of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, said that foreign tech firms wishing to enter the China market should abide by its laws.
Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, addresses the opening ceremony of the Fourth World Internet Conference in the water town of Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang Province, Dec. 3, 2017. Photo:Xinhua/Huang Zongzhi
“(Foreign companies) are determined to come. Follow the rules and laws and if you’re unhappy, leave,” said Ma. “This is not a market (where) you can come and go.”