Chinese regulators target Microsoft, over possible antitrust concerns


Microsoft confirmed in a statement that it is the target of  Chinese government investigation.  (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Chinese regulators have visited several Microsoft offices in China, in relation to an apparent antitrust investigation.

Officials from the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, which investigates antitrust and other matters, visited several Microsoft offices Monday. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigation.

Microsoft confirmed that the Chinese government has been in contact with the company and said it will cooperate with regulators, but it declined to give any further details on the situation.

"We aim to build products that deliver the features, security and reliability customers expect, and we will address any concerns the government may have," the company said in a statement.

U.S. technology firms and the Chinese government have had a rocky relationship in the past year, in light of the information leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that detailed the technology industry's role in U.S. government surveillance overseas. The revelations have directly led to lower sales in China for many U.S. tech firms, such as Cisco and IBM.

Microsoft, in particular, has faced several obstacles in China over the past year. In May, the Chinese government banned the use of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system on government computers due to alleged security concerns, highlighting a growing rift between the United States and China on cybersecurity and other technology issues. The relationship has become even more strained following the U.S. indictment of five members of the Chinese military on hacking charges.

Chinese newspapers reported last week that regulators have leveled an antitrust charge against Qualcomm, one of the world's largest mobile chip makers, accusing it using a "monopoly" to charge excessive fees for its technology.

The way that China has been applying its new law has drawn criticism from some U.S. officials. Last year, Federal Trade Commission commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen gave a speech in Beijing, encouraging antitrust regulators there to provide clear, advance notice to companies under investigation.  Reuters reported that the U. S. Chamber of Commerce had sent a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, saying the Chinese government has applied its anti-monopoly laws to protect Chinese businesses, rather than Chinese consumers.

"It has become increasingly clear that the Chinese government has seized on using the AML to promote Chinese producer welfare and to advance industrial policies that nurture domestic enterprises, rather than the internationally accepted norm of using competition law to protect consumer welfare and competition," the U.S. Chamber's letter said, according to the report.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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