Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were surprise guests at Sunday’s World Internet Conference in China, which aims to promote China’s version of the internet. Although the conference occurs annually in China, it’s the first time such prominent tech executives from Silicon Valley have attended and given public comments.
Cook delivered a keynote at the conference, where he revealed that app developers have earned $16.9 billion from using China’s App Store, which is about a quarter of global earnings, according to Reuters.
“The theme of this conference — developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said, as reported by Bloomberg. Ironically, Cook admitted in an earnings call in August that Apple was forced to remove VPN apps from its App Store in China after government pressure. Netizens had previously been using VPN apps to bypass China’s internet restrictions.
Pichai was on a panel on Sunday, where he pointed out how Google was still relevant to Chinese businesses, despite the fact that it pulled out of China in 2010 following the government’s moves to censor YouTube videos and Google search queries. As replacements, Chinese netizens instead use homegrown equivalents, like Youku for video streaming, and Baidu for web search.
“A lot of work Google does is to help Chinese companies,” Pichai said. “There are many small and medium-sized businesses in China who take advantage of Google to get their products to many other countries outside of China.”
Just a day after the conference, the think tank Chinese Academy of Cyberspace Studies posted a report, advocating for “democratic” internet governance and ranking the country behind the likes of the US, Japan, France, and Estonia, Reuters reported. China scored last place in internet freedom for the third year in a row, the US human rights watchdog Freedom House reported this year, as the government rolled out new internet restrictions over 2016.