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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the annual World Internet Conference in East China's Zhejiang province Sunday.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017 1:00 am

Tech CEOs attend Chinese event

Trying to gain ground in highly censored country

KELVIN CHAN | Associated Press

HONG KONG – The high-profile attendance of the leaders of Apple and Google at a Chinese conference promoting Beijing's vision of a censored internet highlights the dilemma for Western tech companies trying to expand in an increasingly lucrative but restricted market.

The event in Wuzhen, a historic canal town outside Shanghai, marked the first time chiefs of two of the world's biggest tech companies have attended the annual state-run World Internet Conference.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told the gathering as the conference opened Sunday that his company was proud to work with Chinese partners to build a “common future in cyberspace.”

His and Google CEO Sundar Pichai's presence along with other business leaders, diplomats and other experts, some analysts say, helped bestow credibility on Beijing's preferred version of an internet sharply at odds with Silicon Valley's dedication to unfettered access.

Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed, in remarks to the conference conveyed by an official, that “China's door to the world will never close, but will only open wider.”

As in previous years, organizers allowed attendees unrestricted access to the internet, contrary to official policy under which internet users face extensive monitoring and censorship and are blocked from accessing many overseas sites by the so-called Great Firewall of China.

Since Xi came to power in late 2012, he has tightened controls and further stifled free expression, activists say.

Beijing's restraints also extend to Western companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, which have largely been shut out from the market, leaving it to homegrown internet giants like Tencent.

Apple has a large production base in China, which is one of its biggest markets, though domestic smartphone makers are catching up.

It has been criticized by some app developers for complying with Chinese censorship demands. In July, companies that let people get around the government's internet filters – known as virtual private network providers – said their programs had been removed from Apple's app store in China. One such company, ExpressVPN, said Apple was “aiding China's censorship effort.”