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Apple invested at least $275 billion in China since 2016, according to new report

For some, it's an eye-watering amount of money. For Apple, it's the cost of doing business.

Apple computers

China has long been a key to Apple's success. A new report gives more details about how.

James Martin/CNET

Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn't just oversee one of the world's most valuable companies. He's also become a seasoned politician, forging relationships with world leaders, including now former President Donald Trump. A new report Tuesday outlined his role in negotiating with Chinese government regulators too, paving the way for Apple to invest at least $275 billion over the past half decade.

The Information reported on an agreement Cook struck with the Chinese government that allowed Apple to grow most of its operations in the country since 2016. In the agreement, which hadn't been made public, Apple promised it would "do its part to develop China's economy and technological prowess through investments, business deals and worker training." The agreement came in part because some regulators in China believed Apple "wasn't contributing enough to the local economy," according to the report.

Though it's unclear how much of the $275 billion stands out from Apple's costs of operations running research and development, manufacturing, customer support and logistics in the country, the figure does offer a reminder of just how large an operation Apple runs. Last year, for example, Apple spent nearly $22 billion on R&D efforts around the world and almost $44 billion on its operating expenses. Apple has said much of the growth of those costs is related to paying staff. An Apple spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple relies heavily on China for its business. Many of the parts for its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers are made in China. The company also largely relies on contract manufacturers in China like Foxconn to assemble its products. Chinese customers, meanwhile, constitute Apple's third largest geographic market, reaching $68 billion, or nearly 19% of Apple's annual sales last year. Europe and the Americas are larger, at $89 billion and $153 billion, respectively.

For that reason, people have closely watched Apple's relationship with the Chinese government over the years. Apple has reportedly reduced privacy protections for Chinese iPhone, iPad and Mac owners to ensure it can continue operating there. Apple has also touted efforts to educate low-wage workers there, as well as investments like in Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing. The Information report Tuesday said some of these moves are attempts to show its worth to the country's officials.