Apple Pay could be the manufacturer’s key to China. CEO Tim Cook said Apple Inc. will discuss a partnership with Chinese mega-retailer Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. over the next few days, during an interview late Monday evening.

"We're going to talk about getting married later this week,” Cook said at the WSJD conference in California. “We love to partner with people who are wicked smart, with flexible teams, who are product-based, who push us, and we push them. ... [Alibaba is] a company that's exactly like that."

Ma had said earlier at the same event that he had “hopes” for a partnership between Alipay, Alibaba’s popular payment service, and Apple Pay. Alipay is the third-largest payment system in the world, behind only Visa and Mastercard, Ma said.

According to an analyst, a partnership could help American consumers feel more comfortable shopping with the Chinese retail giant, and make iPhones more desirable on the Chinese mainland.

The company’s iPhone-based payment system, Apple Pay, is currently in the middle of "a skirmish" with CVS and other retailers eager to institute their own services, Cook said. But it won’t last long.

“In the long arc of time, you are only relevant as a merchant if your customers love you," Cook said, adding that early adoption of Apple Pay was “fantastic.”

Retailers will also eventually move to Apple Pay when they realize how much more secure it is, he said. Apple is designing a "Fort Knox kind of thing," because customers hate having to change their cards several times a year due to security breaches at a growing list of big retailers, he said.

Cook, who oversaw Apple’s largest acquisition ever -- of Beats Electronics in August -- said he liked finding a mutual understanding with other companies. "If we can find some areas of common space, I love it. I love partnering with people like that."