Why Apple’s Tim Cook sits at the President’s head table


Tim Cook was the Zelig of Xi Jinping’s show-me-the-money U.S. tour last week. Like the title character of Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary, Cook was in all the big photo ops.

That’s him in the group shot at a Seattle tech conference in the front row with seven dollar signs on his chest. (The $s are BuzzFeed’s handiwork; each represents a market cap of $100 billion.)

This is Cook shaking hands with Xi on the Microsoft campus in Seattle Wednesday:

Photograph by Ted S. Warren — Getty Images

This is Cook and Apple VP Lisa Jackson at the White House Friday night:

Chinese President Xi Jinping State Visit At The White HousePhotograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 200 attended the gala state dinner, from Joe Biden to Henry Kissinger, but it was Cook who sat on one side of the guest of honor while President Obama sat on the other.

Every U.S. businessman who showed up in Seattle or Washington (or both) wants something from Xi—if not access to his 1.3 billion potential customers (which Google, Facebook, Amazon still don’t have), then recognition of their intellectual property rights (Disney and Dreamwork).

Apple’s position in China is unique.

“Only Apple has done really well there,” writes the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo.

“And even then, only after completely overhauling its China strategy a couple of years ago. To address China, Tim Cook focused on creating more retail stores in the country (in the past, Apple relied heavily on third-party sellers) and on making deals with Chinese mobile providers. Apple has also begun designing phones with Chinese consumers in mind — it’s pretty clear, for instance, that making larger phones, and not to mention gold phones, was aimed mainly at the Chinese market. These moves have paid off; China now accounts for about a fifth of Apple’s revenue, up from about 15 percent two years ago, and sales there are growing fast.”

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.

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