Tim Cook and Miao Wei

Apple CEO Tim Cook is fast becoming a frequent visitor to China. Cook’s meeting with that country’s Industry and IT Ministry to discuss the near doubling of Apple Stores follows an early visit to quiet critics of Foxconn and rumors of iPhone sweatshops. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information announced Cook met with the agency’s Miao Wei.

The subject of talk: Apple’s business goals for China, as well as global communications. Since a trip to China in March 2012, the number of Apple Stores there have increased to 11 from 6…

After first opening in Beijing in 2008, Apple went on to open two more in the nation’s capitol, as well as three in Shanghai and Hong Kong, along with one store in Chengdu and Shenzhen, according to Reuters. While China is viewed as a potentially lucrative market for the iPhone maker, Cook is struggling against Android.

The Wall Street Journal has more info:

While the purpose behind Mr. Cook isn’t clear, he should find no shortage of things to talk about. Mr. Cook’s visit comes amid greater scrutiny of Apple’s manufacturing practices in China and as China becomes Apple’s No. 2 market for sales. Apple opened three additional retail stores in mainland China last year, bringing its total number of stores in China to eight.

While some reports suggest the low-cost mobile operating system from Google is dominating in China, the recent launch of Apple’s iPhone 5 paints a slightly rosier picture as Apple confirmed that opening-weekend sales of the new device topped two million units. Indeed, one research firm points to China’s record-breaking adoption of Apple’s latest handset as the cause of a spike in users of iOS 6.

iPhone 5 (black, two-up, flat, front, back)

John Paczkowski speculates on AllThingsD that Cook’s second visit to China may also have something to do with the rumor of an imminent deal with China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier.

If, at long last, Apple was able to add the device to China Mobile’s portfolio, it would gain access to an additional 120 million subscribers — a massive addressable market, and one that Apple can’t afford to ignore much longer.

Although Cook’s newest visit to China comes on the heels of a court ruling Apple must pay $165,000 in a copyright dispute, the Asian giant is seen as the biggest market for smartphones. China is seen as replacing the U.S. and Europe, which have matured to where Apple and Android are competing for a minor percent of undecided consumers.

The question for Cook and others is whether they can replicate their success in Western Europe and North America in the Chinese culture?

While the Apple brand is highly-prized, the key will be offering a smartphone that can compete against the Android price while retaining the iPhone maker’s reputation for well-designed technology.

And according to the latest from the rumor-mill, such a device destined for China and other emerging markets will have a larger display and may be heading to the marketplace some time in the second half of this year.

The top image is credited to the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.