Apple CEO Tim Cook says bringing the recently launched Apple Pay system to China is his top priority for doing business the country.
Apple Pay launched on Monday in the U.S. and allows iPhone 6 users to make “tap-and-go” payments at compatible terminals in retailers. It hasn’t expanded outside the U.S. yet, but international expansion is on the cards. The NFC (near-field communication) technology it uses is already standard in some countries.
Cook made his remarks about China in an interview with the country’s Xinhua News Agency on Friday at the conclusion of a four-day trip to the country. During his visit, he met business partners, toured a Foxconn factory that makes Apple products, and met with a government official regarding “strengthening” cooperation in the telecommunication sector.
Xinhua said that Cook wants to understand the Chinese payment system before asking banks and retailers to sign on to the service, but he placed a high priority on launching the service locally.
“China is a really key market for us,” Cook told Xinhua, “Everything we do, we are going to work it here. Apple Pay is on the top of the list.”
For Apple Pay to be successful in China, it will almost certainly require cooperation with Union Pay. Many of the country’s biggest banks are part of the Union Pay system, which links more than a million ATMs and is accepted in around 12 million stores both across China and often foreign destinations popular with Chinese tourists.
Union Pay launched an NFC payment card last year called Quick Pass that is based on the same underlying standard as Apple Pay. However, the Union Pay system doesn’t currently allow credit transactions. It allows consumers to make purchases with money already stored and loaded into the card.
The payment network signed a deal in 2013 with China Mobile to offer NFC payments on smartphones. Unlike Apple Pay, which relies on a chip inside the phone, the China Mobile system uses an NFC chip embedded in the phone’s SIM card.