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Apple CEO to meet Singapore leader to wrap whirlwind Asia tour

Tim Cook arrives at the Apple Developer Academy in Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia. Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg
Tim Cook arrives at the Apple Developer Academy in Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia. Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

By Faris Mokhtar and Gao Yuan

(Bloomberg) — Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook will meet Singapore’s leader at the tail end of his most extensive Southeast Asia tour in years, searching for new growth markets and manufacturing locations to offset headwinds in China.

Cook will be in Singapore on Thursday and Friday to meet with Lawrence Wong, who is set to take over as Prime Minister next month, as well as his predecessor Lee Hsien Loong, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified as the executive’s itinerary isn’t public.

Apple’s CEO is on the verge of concluding a highly public tour that’s taken him from Hanoi to Jakarta, during which he repeatedly stressed the region’s importance as both a market and emergent manufacturing base. His company is looking for growth markets beyond China, a traditional stronghold where demand for its flagship iPhone is sputtering. The company is also diversifying its production beyond the communist country to reduce risks at a time of elevated tensions between the world’s two biggest superpowers.

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From meetings with country leaders in Vietnam and Indonesia to interactions with local customers, Cook has filled a lion’s share of his schedule with publicity activities to generate interest in the brand, the people said. Apple has already increased its retail presence and output in countries such as India, and is now seeking to better tap a relatively fast-growing Southeast Asian market with more than 650 million consumers.

The trip could pave the way for a more aggressive sales campaign in a densely populated region where Android phones from Samsung Electronics Co., Xiaomi Corp. and Oppo dominate the market, said one of the people.

As part of the push, the company is getting close to opening the first Apple Store in Malaysia, located in an extravagant shopping complex in Kuala Lumpur. Apple currently operates five brick-and-mortar stores in Southeast Asia, three in Singapore and two in Thailand, according to its website.

The Singapore plans are subject to change, and Apple hasn’t made Cook’s schedule in the region public. Representatives for Apple, Singapore’s Ministry of Finance and the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Apple, which has operated in Singapore for over 40 years, said Wednesday it plans to invest $250 million to expand its campus in the city-state. The company employs more than 3,600 people there and said the expansion will provide space for new roles in artificial intelligence and other functions.

“Singapore is truly a one-of-a-kind place, and we are proud of the connection we’ve built with this dynamic community of creators, learners, and dreamers,” Cook said in a statement on Apple’s website. “With our growing campus, Apple is writing a new chapter in our history here.”

In the first leg of the tour, Cook met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on Tuesday after pledging new investment in the country. He said Apple plans to buy more components and accessories for its devices from Vietnam’s suppliers, a big boost for the country as it emerges as a global electronics hub.

In Indonesia, Cook told President Joko Widodo Apple is weighing the possibility of making some of its gadgets there. The two also discussed Indonesia’s controversial new trade rule to get more goods produced onshore, one of the people said.

Southeast Asia has become an increasingly important market for Apple because of weak demand in China. The Cupertino, California-based company has struggled to sustain sales in the country since the debut of its latest iPhone 15 series, resulting in a 10% decline in first-quarter shipments. Beijing’s bans on the use of iPhones in government agencies and state-owned companies cast further uncertainty on Apple’s prospects in China.

While India is expected to become a major long-term driver, the iPhone accounts for less than 10% of the smartphones sold there now in part because of its lofty price tag.

—With assistance from Philip J. Heijmans.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.