KOW-TOWING TO CHINA’S MASTERS OF THE INTERNET

Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook made his first appearance at China’s World Internet Conference, using the surprise keynote to call for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity.

Cook made the comments on Sunday at the opening ceremony for the conference — an event designed to globally promote the country’s vision of a more censored and controlled internet. It’s the second Chinese appearance in two months for the executive, who met with President Xi Jinping in October.

“The theme of this conference — developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

Cook and Google chief executive Sundar Pichai are both making their first trips to the event. The attendance of leaders from two of the world’s most valuable tech giants lends credibility to China’s efforts to influence the global internet so it better resembles its own.

China’s vision for the internet is not “developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits”. Certainly, these words mean something else to China than they do to anyone in the West. If Apple shares that vision, it is at best kidding itself or at worst genuinely buying into a blueprint produced by an illiberal one-party state that keeps a tight rein on its citizens and all their activities. The fact that the Western tech giants, wary of annoying the Giant Red Panda and jeopardising their profits, constantly roll over to the ChiCom demands to censor and restrict their products and services should be one clue as to what China’s vision for the internet is.

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