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Even as rising labor and energy costs reduced China’s advantage as a low-cost production site, the dazzling lure of the Chinese consumer pushed many multinationals to locate offices and factories in the country.Unfortunately, that promise turned out to be a mirage for many companies.

Meanwhile, Apple’s outperformance in China may be coming to an end, as revenue in the Greater China area plunges and consumers turn to domestic manufacturers.

Apple’s stumbles in China seem emblematic of a broader realization: US companies have less of a future there than many had hoped.

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For many years, the vast Chinese market — more than 1 billion consumers in a fast-growing economy — sent thrills of excitement up the spines of corporate managers throughout the developed world.

Who cares about the stagnation in Europe and Japan, when China has many more people than all of those markets combined?If the Chinese government ever had any intention to step back and let foreign companies compete with domestic ones on a level playing field, it certainly now looks like it has changed its mind.Not long after multinationals showed up in China, they were made to hand over much of their technology to native competitors (almost all of which are directly or indirectly owned by the Chinese government).Now the bill is coming due, as China’s government promotes its own national champions, many of which are now equipped with pirated foreign technology.Meanwhile, multinationals’ China operations have become less and less profitable as domestic competition has intensified.The Chinese government just shut down two of Apple’s key service products, the i Books Store and i Tunes Movies.

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