Apple Inc Chief Executive Steve Jobs said on Tuesday Foxconn, the global contract manufacturer that assembles the company's iPhones and iPads in China, is not a sweatshop.

Jobs was making his first public comments about a spate of apparent suicides by Chinese workers at a complex operated by Foxconn, which produces devices for many other computer makers.

Apple released the iPad in April and it has quickly defined the nascent tablet computer market, selling more than 2 million units in the first 60 days.

But a string of deaths at Foxconn's base in southern China, which critics blame on stressful working conditions, threatens to cast a shadow over the device's seeming success.

It's a difficult situation, Jobs said on stage at the D8 conference, an annual gathering of top technology executives. We're trying to understand right now, before we go in and say we know the solution.

The iPad's momentum has helped drive share gains. Apple last week overtook long-time nemesis Microsoft to become the world's largest technology company by market value -- an event unthinkable a decade ago -- and Apple's shares have spent much of 2010 hitting new highs.

Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple rose 1.5 percent on Tuesday to close at $260.83 on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic and Gabriel Madway; Editing by Edwin Chan and Jean Yoon)