Chinese government officials visit Microsoft offices, spark questions of antitrust investigation

Chinese government officials visited Microsoft offices in China Monday, though Microsoft representatives have declined to comment as to the nature of these visits. 

Joe Belfiore, vice president of the operating system group at Microsoft, holds up a pair of mobile phones featuring the new Windows 8.1 at the Build conference in San Francisco.

Chinese government officials visited Microsoft offices in the country on Sunday, according to The South China Morning Post, a Hong-Kong based English-language newspaper. 

The newspaper cited four Microsoft office locations visited by Chinese investigators from the State Administration for Industry and Commerce: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. It is unclear what transpired during these visits, but the newspaper said "the investigation might have to do with antitrust matters." Reuters also reported that this could likely be the "preliminary stage of an antitrust investigation."

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed these visits to Reuters – which used the word "visit" in its description, not "investigation" as the Chinese newspaper had – but declined to say why these inspections had occurred. Further clarification sought by The Monitor as to the nature of these visits was also declined. 

In an e-mailed statement, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "We aim to build products that deliver the features, security, and reliability customers expect, and we will address any concerns the government may have," yet declined to give any additional information. 

This comes at a time of difficulty for US technology companies operating in China. In the past year, China has targeted several companies, including Microsoft, for cooperating with the US government's spying program revealed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden

"US companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc. are all coordinating with the PRISM program to monitor China," official Chinese media reported in June

Since May, Chinese government offices have not been allowed to install Microsoft's latest operating system Windows 8 on new computers. According to Reuters, this ban appears to still be in place. 

And yet, Microsoft is still planning to release its Xbox One gaming console in China, which it says will be available in the country in September; the console is being distributed by the Chinese Internet company Tencent Holdings and the Chinese electronics company

Earlier this month, it was reported that Chinese hackers had broken into US government computer networks that contained personal information on government employees. 

Following that revelation, US consumer tech giant Apple went back and forth with China after Chinese state media accused a feature on the Apple iPhone of posing a national security threat that could reveal important state secrets. 

More recently, an article published last week by China's state-run Xinhua News Agency urged Chinese Internet companies to compete internationally, an example of how China is placing increasingly greater emphasis on domestic technologies as opposed to relying on foreign technologies. That article said that by moving abroad, Chinese Internet companies could provide an alternative to a market currently heavily dominated by American companies. Alternatives are needed, the article noted, due to international concerns raised by the Snowden leaks. 

-Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the editorial stance of the South China Morning Post. 

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