That would be the nuclear option. It looks unlikely for the time being. The costs for China would be huge; Mr Dediu estimates that Apple contributes about $24bn a year to China’s economy. Some 1.5m Chinese help assemble Apple products. A further 2.5m Chinese software engineers create apps for the ios operating system. Appetite for punishment may be weak. On May 26th Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s boss, told Bloomberg tv that he would be the first to protest if China hits back against Apple. “Apple is my teacher, it’s in the lead,” he said. “As a student why go against my teacher? Never.”
Mr Ren can always change his mind. So can China. Whereas Huawei claims to have a Plan B to survive its blacklisting by America, and Samsung, a rival smartphone-maker from South Korea, is shifting supply chains from China, Apple appears to have no clear alternative to assembly in China. Few other places possess the expertise to produce the high-end components that Apple needs. The existing network would take years to unscramble.
On Apple watch
One fix would be for Apple to develop another indispensable product that no self-respecting affluent Chinese consumer could do without. For all his success, Mr Cook has not yet managed this. Another would be to develop services that do not need production in China. Apple’s much-trailed announcement in March of new video- streaming, payments and other services shows it is trying. They may prove a hit, but would be no substitute for the iPhone. Mr Cook must be hoping that he has not miscalculated the risks to the supply chains he has so intricately engineered.