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Microsoft China offices get unexpected visit from regulators

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China is stepping up its micromanaging of Microsoft, with regulatory officials making surprise visits to Microsoft offices in several Chinese cities.

At the root of the scrutiny seems to be Chinese suspicions about Microsoft's alleged involvement in cyberspying activities in the People's Republic.

Of course, much of this combination of paranoia and justified fears stems from the new Cold War between the West and China fought by cybersnooping, sabotage, hacking and propaganda disbursed via social media.

All of this was exacerbated by l'affaire Edward Snowden, who, pro or con, laid bare the extraordinary length and depth of U.S. government efforts to spy on businesses, citizens and other governments. There are no innocents in this. Most governments are engaging in these practices, against both friends and foes.

Regulators from the very official-sounding State Administration for Industry and Commerce dropped in on Microsoft offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

Employees were questioned, yet no directly stated objectives for the visits were given by the regulators. Microsoft has not actually been accused of any specific violations.

Microsoft has not had much to say about the courtesy calls yet, only stating, "We aim to build products that deliver the features, security and reliability customers expect. We will actively cooperate with the government's inquiry and answer related questions."

One of those products that Microsoft would like deliver to Chinese customers is the Windows 8 operating system. The Chinese government, though, has blocked the installation of Windows 8 on all government computers.

This ban on the new OS may be related to a kerfuffle over a U.S. indictment of five Chinese military personnel for the alleged hacking of U.S. businesses in search of trade secrets.

Microsoft is but one of many U.S. and other foreign firms who have met obstacles thrown up by the Chinese government and by a capricious legal system. Tesla, for example, can't seem to fend off dubious trademark lawsuits that seem to grow like weeds there. Other companies that have found themselves sideways with the authorities in China include GlaxoSmithKline, other pharmaceutical firms, Apple and even Starbucks.

There is much irony in Chinese regulators tightening the screws on Microsoft, given how much of the software piracy issues that have hurt Microsoft over the years have been tied to Chinese sources.

On the plus side, Microsoft did just reach an agreement with Chinese Internet purveyors Tencent Holdings Ltd. and JD.com to sell new Xbox One consoles into the Chinese market.

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