TAIPEI -- Apple has asked its major suppliers to evaluate the cost implications of shifting 15% to 30% of their production capacity from China to Southeast Asia as it prepares for a fundamental restructuring of its supply chain, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned.
The California-based tech giant's request was triggered by the protracted trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, but multiple sources say that even if the spat is resolved there will be no turning back. Apple has decided the risks of relying so heavily on manufacturing in China, as it has done for decades, are too great and even rising, several people told Nikkei.
"A lower birthrate, higher labor costs and the risk of overly centralizing its production in one country. These adverse factors are not going anywhere," said one executive with knowledge of the situation. "With or without the final round of the $300 billion tariff, Apple is following the big trend [to diversify production]," giving itself more flexibility, the person added.
China has been the production base on which Apple's global success has been built over the past two decades. The country has not only been able to rally hundreds of thousands of skilled workers at short notice to fill rapidly rising orders as the company grew, but an extensive and complex ecosystem of components, logistics and talent has built up in and around Apple manufacturing sites.
Some 5 million Chinese jobs rely on Apple's presence in the country, including those of more than 1.8 million software and iOS App developers, according to a study available on the company's website. Apple itself employs 10,000 staff in China, the company said.
Suppliers admit that replicating this network elsewhere will take time, and China is likely to remain Apple's most important manufacturing base for the foreseeable future. "It's really a long-term effort and might see some results two or three years from now," said one supplier. "It's painful and difficult, but that's something we have to deal with." Read more