Tim Cook knows how important China is for Apple’s future. Both before and during his tenure as Apple CEO, he has visited the nation multiple times to meet with business associates and government officials. In a rare move, he was on hand in January as China Mobile began selling iPhones for the first time.

Apple is rumored to be working on a Touch ID-enabled mobile payment system. Perhaps we now know one of the main reasons why, courtesy of Tech Node.

The People’s Bank of China recently announced that in 2013, it handled 1.67 billion mobile payment transitions. These transactions were worth $1.6 trillion, and represented an increase of 318 percent year over year. With a population of 1.3 billion in China, this means there were 25,000 mobile payment transactions per minute in the world’s largest consumer market.

Now imagine were Apple to introduce its own mobile payment system — one that just so happens to work on devices sold by the world’s largest cellular provider. Can one say, cha-ching?

During Apple’s first quarter conference call, Cook was asked about Apple’s relationship with the mobile payments industry in specific relation to its Touch ID fingerprint scanning technology.

As Joe White reported at the time, the question posed to Cook was: “Can you talk a bit more about opportunities in the mobile payment market? Maybe talk about what you’re seeing with regard to use of the touch sensor for mobile payments in your iTunes Store, and then how you sort of think about this as an opportunity.”

Cook responded:

Let me sort of avoid the last part of the question. But in general, we’re seeing that people love being able to buy content – whether it’s music or movies or books, from their iPhone using Touch ID. It’s incredibly simple and easy, and elegant, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of opportunity there.

The mobile payments area in general is one that we’ve been intrigued with. That was one of the thoughts behind Touch ID, but we’re not limiting ourselves just to that. So I don’t have anything specific to announce today. But you can tell by looking at the demographics of our customers, and the amount of commerce that goes through iOS devices versus the competition that it’s a big opportunity on the platform.

Touch ID is currently available on the iPhone 5s. It is expected to be added to the iPad later this year.

As usual, we’ll continue to follow this story.