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Microsoft chief defends China environment

SINGAPORE, May 26 – Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer defended the company\’s presence in China on Wednesday, saying it was more helpful in easing censorship than the tougher approach of rival Google.

Ballmer said that while he respected Google\’s decision not to bow to censorship in China, Microsoft believed it was more productive to engage Beijing in dialogue rather than take on a country\’s legal system.

Human rights groups and members of the US Congress have accused technology giants including Microsoft and Yahoo! of abetting China\’s Web censorship machine, dubbed the "Great Firewall of China."

Ballmer, visiting Singapore on an Asian tour, told journalists: "Google made another choice, I respect that they made another choice.

"We think we are trying to help reduce the possibility of censorship by being there. I think our choice will do more to help promote free speech than the choice they\’ve chosen."

He said that in the event of a formal directive by China\’s government to remove information on its site, Microsoft\’s policy was to comply, out of consideration for its workers\’ safety.

"If we get a proper request from the Chinese government, we take the information down, otherwise we put our 2,000 employees in China at risk," said Ballmer. "But we also put up a big notice that says we took something down in China and we leave it outside of China.

"We think we are trying to help reduce the possibility of censorship by being there."

In April, Google stopped censoring results on its Chinese search engine and began redirecting users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong, a move praised by its shareholders despite the danger of a Chinese backlash.

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Ballmer said every country had its own regulations governing the Internet and China was no different in this regard.

"The fact of the matter is, cybersecurity is an important issue," said Ballmer.

"It\’s an important issue to China, to the US, Singapore, everywhere in the world and we work on those issues with the relevant authorities in all countries."

On Microsoft\’s prospects in the Chinese market, Ballmer said software piracy remained a challenge and was one factor driving the firm to focus more on other Asian countries offering better intellectual-property protection.

"In terms of China in general, it\’s a long haul," said Ballmer.

"We are trying our best to collaborate with industry, collaborate with Chinese companies, collaborate with the government so that people understand and appreciate the value of proper protection of intellectual property."

Despite China\’s huge market, only about one percent of Microsoft\’s revenues come from there, Ballmer said, adding that there were more opportunities in countries such as India and Indonesia in the short term.

An annual report issued this month by the industry group Business Software Alliance showed 79 percent of software installed in personal computers in China last year were pirated copies, among the highest rates in Asia.

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