SHANGHAI (AFP) - Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, on his second visit to China in a year, said he expects the country to surpass the United States as the technology giant's largest market, state media reported.
Mr Cook said Apple would launch new products in China, but declined to comment on reports that the company is planning a cheaper iPhone for emerging markets like China, the official Xinhua News agency reported late on Thursday.
"China is currently our second largest market. I believe it will become our first. I believe strongly that it will," he told Xinhua in an interview.
Apple said it sold over two million iPhone 5 handsets in China within three days of its launch on Dec 14 last year.
Products of the California-based company, including the iPhone and iPad, are wildly popular in China where they are coveted by wealthy consumers.
Coming out with a more affordable iPhone in China and other markets could help Apple ward off competition from bargain-priced smartphones powered by Google-backed Android software.
A separate report carried by the news portal of Internet giant Sina quoted Mr Cook as saying Apple planned to have more than 25 retail stores in China.
The company currently has 11 such stores in mainland China and Hong Kong.
The Sina report gave no timeframe for the store openings.
Technology analysts say Apple has appeared slow to open more stores in China given the demand for its products.
During Mr Cook's previous visit to China last March, the man tipped to be China's next premier, Mr Li Keqiang, told him that foreign firms should protect workers as Apple faced criticism over factory conditions in China.
Speaking on the latest visit, where he met Chinese company executives in Beijing, Mr Cook said Apple has strict codes of conduct for its suppliers manufacturing in China, which include Foxconn of Taiwan, Xinhua reported.
He said Apple would not do business with vendors who failed to follow the company's code of conduct, the report said.
Apple plans to bring some manufacturing of its computers from China to the United States this year.