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Apple eyes 25 more stores in China

CEO Tim Cook says the company plans to open 25 retail stores in China over next two years, according to an interview posted on Chinese web portal Sina.com.

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Tim Cook at the Apple Store in Palo Alto, California. James Martin/CNET

Apple plans to open another 25 retail outlets in China over the next couple of years.

The goal was voiced by Apple CEO Tim Cook, according to a Chinese transcript of an interview posted by Sina.com, the English version of the site reported on Thursday. The new stores will add to the 15 Apple currently has in China.

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

Cook has been visiting China this week where he met with Vice Premier Ma Kai. The two discussed such matters as protecting user information and cooperating more fully regarding information and communication, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Cook also toured a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou to meet workers who assemble the iPhone. A tweet by Apple's CEO said it was "great to meet talented people like Zhang Fan, who helps make iPhone 6 in Zhengzhou."

But Apple's relationship with China has been dicey at times.

Apple's iCloud service was recently the target of hacking attempts designed to steal user data. On Monday, Greatfire.org, which monitors Chinese Internet censorship, accused Chinese authorities of staging a man-in-the-middle-attack on iCloud. It's unknown if Cook and the vice premier touched on that topic.

In July, a researcher interviewed on Chinese TV labeled the iPhone a potential national security threat due to its Frequent Locations feature. The researcher claimed that the data collected by the feature could reveal the entire country's economic status and "even state secrets." In response, Apple said the data gathered by the feature is stored only on the phone and not collected by the company.

Despite concerns over security issues, China has proved to be a lucrative market for Apple, especially in the area of smartphone sales. The company sold a record number of iPhones 5S handsets in the country during the fourth quarter of 2013. And 16 percent of Apple's $37.4 billion in sales in during this year's June quarter came from China, which is the world's largest smartphone market.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus appear to be off to a strong start in China as well.

The new phones reportedly racked up 20 million preorders in just three days, according to a report from Chinese website Tencent. Due to a regulatory delay in approving the new iPhone in China, iPhone 6 sales didn't actually start until Friday, October 17. The delay contributed to a decline in the growth of iPhone sales in China last quarter. So the bulk of initial iPhone 6 sales in China will register over the current quarter.

Cook also attributed last quarter's sales factor to an inventory issue, saying that Apple raised its channel inventory in China last year but scaled it back this year.

"And so you have a compounded effect of no launch and a huge change in channel inventory in a year-over-year basis," Cook said on a conference call on Monday. "And to share with you what it was in greater China, iPhone unit sell-through despite no launch in Q4 was up 32 percent year over year. The market was projected by IDC to only grow 13 percent. So we feel incredibly great about that."

On the conference call, Cook also played up Apple's ongoing investment in China, Reuters reported.

"We're investing like crazy in the market," Cook said. "When I look at China, I see an enormous market where there are more people graduating into the middle class than any nation on Earth in history."