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Tim Cook spotted in China; next iPhone on the docket?

Apple CEO Tim Cook visited an Apple store in Beijing today, where he's believed to be meeting with Chinese carriers to discuss the next iPhone.

What are you doing in China, Tim Cook?
What are you doing in China, Tim Cook?

Apple CEO Tim Cook is out and about in China, and it doesn't appear he's on vacation.

The iPhone maker's chief executive today was spotted in the Joy City Apple Store in Beijing, marveling at his company's products and talking with employees. Cook didn't say at the store why he's in China, but that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from speculating.

Apple blog AppleInsider is reporting today, citing sources, that Cook is in China to discuss his company's next-generation iPhone with the two carriers that offer Apple's handset, China Telecom and China Unicom. The sources also said that he might be in town to try to work out a deal with China Mobile.

Although none of those scenarios would be surprising, it's likely that Cook would like nothing more than to ink a deal with China Mobile. As China's largest carrier with over 660 million subscribers, it's the crown jewel for Apple. It's also its most elusive would-be partner.

For years, Apple has been hoping to bring its iPhone to China Mobile, only to see the deal scuttled time and again. Last year, Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu cited industry sources who said that China Mobile was ready to move forward on a deal with Apple, but the iPhone maker turned it down after the carrier asked for a slice of App Store revenue. That followed statements made years prior by China Mobile CEO Wang Jianzhou who criticized Apple for trying to take too much control.

However, in September, Jianzhou changed his tone, saying that he hopes to come to an agreement with Apple at some point in the future. He also hinted that the first iPhone to come to his service would be capable of connecting to his company's 4G TD-LTE service.

"China Mobile and Apple hope to find a solution for close collaboration," Jianzhou said. "We discussed this issue with Apple. We hope Apple will produce a new iPhone with TD-LTE. We have already got a positive answer from Apple."

Apple's new iPad is the first from the company to support 4G LTE. It's widely speculated that the next iPhone will also come with that option.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on Cook's visit to China.