Huawei Technologies and ZTE have both seen their business prospects in the U.S. dwindle over their alleged ties to the Chinese government. Last year, a U.S. congressional committee accused the two companies of being a security risk, and recommended that U.S. firm should buy from other vendors. A new funding law in the U.S. is expected to further constrain purchases of information technology systems coming from the country.
"China likes to keep it clear that having access to this market is a privilege," Natkin added. "And at any time a company forgets or disregards that, it can create some conflict."
It's also not the first time Apple has faced a public relations battle in the country. A year ago, the company found itself locked in a legal battle over the iPad trademark in China. The case gained widespread media attention, and threatened to block Apple's tablet sales in the country. The company later agreed to pay US$60 million to buy the trademark from a little-known Chinese display maker.
Apple's apologies are rare. But China has become the company's second largest market, where its suppliers also manufacture the iPhone, the iPad and Mac products.
Since becoming Apple's CEO, Cook has made two visits to China, and met with government officials, including Li Keqiang, now the premier of the country. In his Monday apology, Cook said the company still had much to learn in China with regards to its operations and communications.