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Although Apple has long relied on factories in China to turn out its incredibly popular electronics products, the company has clearly sought to counter charges that it’s been a world champion outsourcer that’s contributed to U.S. industrial hollowing out and general economic weakening. How? By touting its products as “Designed by Apple in California.”

And that’s mattered in more than a public relations sense because it’s been that U.S.-located design – and engineering – that’s long comprised the vast majority of the value of Apple products. Even better, it’s also long been the case that almost none of the wealth generated by iPhones and iMacs and the rest have gone to China. Those factories in the People’s Republic, owned by contract manufacturers, have largely been snapping the sophisticated parts together according to Apple’s appealing designs and sophisticated blueprints.

Now, though, according to excellent reporting by The New York Times‘ Tripp Mickle, it’s clear that Apple’s going to have at least put a big asterisk on its slogan. He’s updated trends that I identified literally decades ago in my book The Race to the Bottom and have followed since (see, e.g., here) making clear that not only is much of the Apple’s most advanced manufacturing (of parts and components) now performed in China, but so is a large and surging share of that engineering and design.

According to Mickle’s sources,

More than ever, Apple’s Chinese employees and suppliers contributed complex work and sophisticated components for the 15th year of its marquee device, including aspects of manufacturing design, speakers and batteries, according to four people familiar with the new operations and analysts. As a result, the iPhone has gone from being a product that is designed in California and made in China to one that is a creation of both countries.”

Mickle continues: China’s “engineers and suppliers have moved up the supply chain to claim a bigger slice of the money that U.S. companies spend to create high-tech gadgets.”

As a result, just as American leaders have belatedly been awakening to the dangers of heavy reliance on China for critical goods, both because of Beijing’s burgeoning power and challenges to U.S. global technological leadership and the national security created by this stature, Apple has been boosting its dependence on the People’s Republic – and helping to enrich and empower this hostile dictatorship. 

Some of Mickle’s specifics:

>”This year, Apple has posted 50 percent more [high wage] jobs in China than it did during all of 2020, according to GlobalData, which tracks hiring trends across tech.”

>”When China closed its borders in 2020, Apple was forced to overhaul its operations and abandon its practice of flying hordes of California-based engineers to China to design the assembly process for flagship iPhones. Instead of subjecting staff to lengthy quarantines, Apple began empowering and hiring more Chinese engineers in Shenzhen and Shanghai to lead critical design elements for its best-selling product….”

>In 2007, Chinese suppliers accounted for a mere 3.6 percent of an iPhone’s value. Now this figure is more than 25 percent.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has just begun to enforce new regulations aimed at ensuring that products labeled “Made in America” really are produced domestically.  It’s time for Washington to require Apple to start telling the truth about its operations, too.     

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