Apple’s Tim Cook hearts China

October 28, 2015, 1:37 PM UTC
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, gestures while responding to questions on October 19, 2015 in Laguna Beach, California at the opening of the 2015 WSJD Live. The event brings together top CEOs, founders, pioneers, investors and luminaries to explore the most exciting tech opportunities emerging around the world. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Frederic J. Brown — AFP/Getty Images

Tim Cook, soft-spoken Southerner that he is, often can be a man of few words. During a conference call with analysts Tuesday afternoon to announce Apple’s strong fourth-quarter results, he dismissed a question from a Goldman Sachs analyst with a terse “I don’t know the answer to that,” followed by silence.

Asked about China, however, the Apple CEO turned positively rhapsodic. In fact he soliloquized a stem-winder so passionate, its content speaks volumes to the country’s place in Apple’s future.

“We’ve been able to grow without the market growing,” Cook said, after the company announced that sales in what it calls “Greater China” (including Hong Kong and Taiwan) doubled to $12.5 billion in the quarter. “iPhone 6 was the largest-selling phone in mainland China,” he said.

Then, Cook countered the oodles of commentary calling into question China’s economic growth. “Frankly, if I were to shut off my Web and shut off the TV and just look at how many customers are coming into our stores and coming online, I wouldn’t know there was any economic issue at all in China. I think there’s a misunderstanding, particularly in the Western world, which contributes to the confusion.”

In fact, Apple (AAPL) recently opened its 25th retail store in China, on the way to 40 soon. Cook said that no matter the near-term gyrations, Apple is in China for good. “We’re investing in China for the decades ahead,” he said. “China will be Apple’s top market in the world. That’s not just for sales. The developer community is growing faster than any country in the world.” Cook was there last week and said he was impressed with the software developers he met. As for the retail customers he encountered? Their enthusiasm was “infectiously contagious.”

Cook didn’t stop there. “Nobody’s asking me about iPad on the call,” he said, referring to Apple’s tablet computer, whose sales declined 20% from the previous year. “In China, for 68% of the people who bought an iPad, it was the first tablet they had owned, and 40% of those had never owned any Apple product.”

Apple remains a global juggernaut. It’s easy to see why its CEO, who spent years of his life flying back and forth from California to Apple’s partner factories in China, is bullish on the world’s second biggest economy, short-term issues be damned.

This article first appeared in the daily Fortune newsletter Data Sheet. Subscribe here for a daily dose of analysis from Adam Lashinsky and a curation of the day’s technology news from Heather Clancy.

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