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China to Apple: 'Apology accepted – but watch your step'

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Proving that state-controlled media can turn on a dime when they see it to their advantage, the Chinese tabloid Global Times, a subsidiary of the Communist Party of China's People's Daily, has praised Apple CEO Tim Cook's open letter, issued Monday, in which he offered his "sincere apologies" for Apple's customer-service practices.

"This is the right step for Apple, and deserves credit from Chinese consumers and the media," wrote the Global Times in an op-ed piece on Tuesday entitled "Apology from Apple benefits all sides".

People's Daily's comments on the matter were more muted, but still positive. "Apple CEO Tim Cook's apology to Chinese consumers is better late than never," that more-staid paper wrote in its business section. "Apple's apology and positive moves should have come earlier, but it is not too late for it to rebuild Chinese consumers' trust."

Global Times, praising Apple's "professionalism and flexibility," also took the opportunity to get in a dig against other US companies doing business in the Middle Kingdom, and to praise the state-run China Central Television (CCTV), which launched the anti-Apple effort in a prime-time television special on March 15.

"[Apple's] reaction is worth respect compared with other American companies," the Global Times editors wrote. "CCTV also deserves our respect and encouragement for daring to criticize a business giant like Apple."

As The Reg reported on Monday, CCTV's attack on Apple backfired among many Chinese Apple fans, who filled Chinese-language weibo (microblogging) social-media websites with comments defending Apple and criticizing CCTV – especially after it was revealed that the television station had recruited Chinese celebrities to use their personal social-media accounts to promote its show.

Global Times chided Apple fans for their comments, and defended CCTV. "They should reflect on the fact that CCTV is trying to defend their rights," it wrote. "But the issue has been interpreted through a highly ideological lens. Apple, as a company, is deified by its fans. But no company can escape the supervision of public opinion. It also raised questions about Chinese mainstream media and why normal criticism against a company could backfire in such a way."

For its part, the People's Daily didn't acknowledge the existence of a backlash against CCTV in its article, which referred only to the "waves of criticism regarding [Apple's] unfair customer service in China," and said that "Apple fans were disappointed by the company's indifference before the CEO issued the apology."

As Paul Simon sang in "The Boxer", "... a man hears what he wants to hear / And disregards the rest" – especially if that man writes for a state-controlled news organ.

The People's Daily also issued a not-too-subtle warning. "Rather than taking pains to make up for faulty practices, foreign companies should prevent such practices from being implemented in the first place," they wrote. "A preventative approach is necessary if they wish to sustain their business in China."

The Chinese government has spoken, and you can be sure that the message has been received by foreign companies salivating at the prospect of selling their goods in a country with 1.3 billion potential customers. ®

Bootnote

Reuters produced a news video on Chinese Apple fans' reaction to Cook's apology, which is worth two minutes of your time if only to discover that a long wait for service at an Apple Store's "Genius Bar" is not strictly a western phenomenon.

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