John Paczkowski

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Why Is Tim Cook in China Again?

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology

Apple CEO Tim Cook returned to China this week for his second visit to the country in less than a year.

The purpose of Cook’s trip wasn’t immediately clear, and Apple offered no explanation for it. What is known is that he met with Miao Wei, head of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, to chat broadly about China’s IT industry, global mobile communications and innovation. Beyond that, Cook’s agenda is a mystery. But China is an enormously important market for Apple. The company has nearly doubled the number of retail stores there since Cook’s last visit in March. Its manufacturing partner, Foxconn, is also based in China, and Cook has visited its factories on previous trips. Perhaps something like that is on the agenda this time, as well.

The most interesting question, however, is whether Cook will call on China Mobile. Apple still hasn’t inked an iPhone distribution deal with the company, mainland China’s largest mobile phone carrier. And it’s clearly in Apple’s best interests to do so. If, at long last, Apple was able to add the device to China Mobile’s portfolio, it would gain access to an additional 707 million subscribers — a massive addressable market, and one that Apple can’t afford to ignore much longer.

Update: Sources in position to know tell AllThingsD that Cook is joined on this trip by Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. They also say that a China Mobile meeting is on the agenda.

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