Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly met with China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua in Beijing this week to discuss a partnership with the only major Chinese carrier that doesn't offer the iPhone.
Cook and Xi met at China Mobile's Beijing headquarters, according to Bloomberg. It was the second meeting between the two men this year.
The news agency said China Mobile confirmed that the meeting had taken place. Neither Apple nor China Mobile immediately responded to requests for comment.
China Mobile has an estimated 740 million subscribers, making it the largest carrier in the world, and is in possession of just under 65 per cent of China's mobile service customers.
While China's two other state-run telecoms, China Telecom and China Unicom, both sell Apple's iPhones, China Mobile's TD-SCDMA 3G network is incompatible with pre-iPhone 5 smartphones from Apple. However, the carrier's buildout of a TD-LTE-based network for 4G service means Apple's current generation of devices could be offered.
Cook and Xi last met in January to discuss a possible partnership. The two executives discussed "matters of cooperation" at the 10 January meeting, a China Mobile spokesman said at the time, but no deal was struck.
Though Apple now has a foothold in China thanks to its deals with China Telecom and China Unicom, the bulk of the country's estimated 988 million mobile users will remain tantalisingly off limits for Cupertino until an agreement with China Mobile is reached.
Earlier this year, reports suggested that Apple is seriously lagging behind rival Samsung in China, with smartphone market share in the single digits compared with Samsung's nearly 25 per cent share of the China market.
Meanwhile, Apple is contending with new allegations of labour abuses at Chinese factories run by its supplier Pegatron, adding to the ongoing controversy over the labour practices of Cupertino's main manufacturing partner in China, Foxconn.
A report from China-based labour rights organisation China Labor Watch released this week claimed that abuses at factories for Apple supplier Pegatron are "even worse" than those at Foxconn.
From March to July, CLW workers went undercover outside a Pegatron factory in Shanghai, Riteng in Shanghai, and AVY in Suzhou, and interviewed approximately 200 workers about the conditions inside. CLW said it uncovered at least 86 labour rights violations, from underage labour and excessive hours to environmental pollution and insufficient wages.
"In short, the Pegatron factories are violating a great number of international and Chinese laws and standards as well as the standards of Apple's own social responsibility code of conduct," CLW concluded.
The CLW report also seemed to confirm that Apple is indeed working on a low-cost iPhone, as has been rumoured for months.
Apple said this week that it will investigate the CLW allegations.