Apple CEO hopes apps pulled from China store will one day return

Apple chief Tim Cook’s comments come at a pivotal point for the company’s future in China which is now its biggest market outside of North America

Tim Cook says he 'shares China's cyberspace vision' at an event promoting the country's internet censorship

Despite criticism, Apple Inc.'s Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai took part in the conference this year, demonstrating the huge scale of the digital market in China.

Google was shut down in China in 2010 following a showdown with the government over censor policies.

According to Bloomberg, Cook said: 'The theme of this conference - developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits - is a vision we at Apple share.

Cook has come to China several times this year, including an October visit where he was among executives that met with President Xi Jinping, who also had prepared remarks read at the conference on Sunday. "Facebook and Google aren´t accessible in China behind the country´s Great Firewall, along with major Western news outlets and social media sites, while Apple is subject to strict censorship".

In its absence, Chinese firms like Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and emerged most powerful players in China and overseas.

Apple is facing criticism from local users and rights groups for bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators after it made a decision to remove hundreds of apps from its Chinese store this year, including messaging apps and virtual private network (VPN) services, which help users subvert China's Great Firewall.

Google and its products can be accessed in China through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) over which Beijing has stepped up a crackdown in recent times.

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Skype, the calling app, was removed from its mainland App Store this autumn. 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.

"China's experience suggests that both factors are crucial to a sound development of the internet that aims to serve the fundamental interests of the people", Xu Yunhong, an official from the academy, told a news conference in Wuzhen.

Speaking at the Fortune Forum in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, Cook also said he believed strongly in freedoms, a comment seen by many as a response to a United States democratic senator's remarks on Tuesday that Apple had a moral obligation to promote free expression.

Cook is a frequent visitor to China and was last in the country five weeks ago.

China represents one of Apple's biggest markets, one that it is paying dearly for.

In his address, Xi spoke of "cyber sovereignty".

But China has maintained that its various forms of web censorship are necessary for protecting its national security.

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