BEIJING-Apple Inc. AAPL +1.83% Chief Executive Tim Cook met Chinese government officials in Beijing Monday, a company spokeswoman said, as the consumer-electronics giant faces a legal challenge in China to the iPad trademark and as it looks to further its surging Chinese growth.
A spokeswoman said Mr. Cook- who is on his first trip to China since becoming chief executive of the Cupertino, Calif., company- “had great meetings with Chinese officials today.”
“China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth here,” said the spokeswoman, Carolyn Wu.
She declined to identify any of the Chinese officials or give further details about the meetings.
Mr. Cook’s visit was well-noted on the Chinese Internet, where people posted photos of themselves posing with the chief executive during a visit to an Apple Store in Beijing, one of the company’s five retail stores in mainland China.
It is unclear whether Apple-which has a cash hoard of roughly $100 billion-is interested in major investments there. The company has been expanding its retail presence in the country, opening a new store in Shanghai last fall.
Any tightening of ties between Apple and Chinese officials would come at a critical time.
Apple faces a complicated legal battle over the rights to use the iPad name in China, which it says it bought in 2009 from the Taiwan affiliate of Proview International Holdings Ltd. 0334.HK 0.00%
Proview argues that its Chinese arm, based in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen, owns the trademark. The dispute is before a high court in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
The stakes are high. Research firm IDC estimates that Apple sold over four million iPads in China last year. Proview also has filed with Chinese customs officials to stop the import and export of iPads, though legal experts say such a move would be extremely unlikely to happen for export-dependent China.
An attorney for Proview Shenzhen said Monday the company isn’t expecting to meet with Mr. Cook during his trip. Proview Shenzhen Chairman Yang Rongshan also said he isn’t expecting to see Mr. Cook, either.
Mr. Cook’s visit also comes as Apple has been combating criticism of working conditions at its Chinese suppliers. Its own audits have found evidence of excessive working hours and underage labor at some of them. Mr. Cook has defended Apple’s efforts to address issues and the progress it is making to investors and has said he thinks Apple is a leader in trying to improve manufacturing conditions throughout its supply chain.
Mr. Cook’s last public visit to China was in June, when he was still Apple’s chief operating officer.
On the latest trip he was spotted at the Beijing office of the nation’s largest mobile operator, China Mobile Ltd. CHL +1.13% China Mobile has said it is in talks with Apple about carrying the company’s popular iPhone, which is currently offered by its two competitors, China Unicom CHU +1.70% and China Telecom CHA +2.62% .
China Mobile didn’t immediately respond to requests for information.
A public relations representative for China Telecom said he wasn’t aware of any visits from Mr. Cook. A China Unicom public relations representative said he had “no news” to release.
The company had long relied on resellers to distribute its products in China and didn’t officially release the iPhone in China until 2009, but has opened five full-service Apple Stores in the market since 2008 and now releases its newest products, including the latest iPhones and iPads, in China more quickly.
China is Apple’s second-largest market by sales after the U.S. China is the world’s largest mobile market by number of subscribers. It surpassed the U.S. last year to become the world’s largest personal-computer market as well.
At Apple’s Xidan store in Beijing on Monday, people snapped photos of a smiling Mr. Cook, also known as “Captain Cook” in Chinese, wearing a blue jacket with a Livestrong logo, for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and posted them online.
Some fans commented on the Web that the executive’s appearance shows that Apple is paying more attention to China. Many Internet users noted that Apple’s previous CEO, the late Steve Jobs, was never known to have visited China.
“After Cook became CEO, he paid great attention to the China Market,” wrote one user called Franky Xu on microblogging site Sina Weibo, which is a Chinese equivalent to Twitter. “And on OSX and iOS operating systems, he integrated Chinese local services step by step,” the blogger said, referring to the increasing number of services localized for Chinese users offered along with Apple products.
Despite having offered the iPhone in China since 2009, for example, Apple didn’t accept payments for media or applications purchased through iTunes until last November.
“What Steve Jobs didn’t achieve, Cook did,” the Weibo user said.