In a surprising and strongly-worded rebuke, the government of China warned Microsoft on Monday not to interfere with an antitrust investigation against the company. It's unclear what triggered this warning, though a related threat about not involving the US government may provide a clue.
The warning came via an official statement from China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce, which said that Microsoft should avoid "interfering in or obstructing" the investigation.
Over 100 regulatory officials visited multiple Microsoft sites in China a week ago and interrogated top Microsoft employees. Some left with PCs, hard drives and paper-based documentation. Microsoft confirmed the investigation—which some publications have sensationalized as a "raid"—noting that it would comply with Chinese law, as always, and with the investigation.
Exactly what Microsoft allegedly did wrong remains a mystery. But China is embroiled in a jingoistic movement to decrease its reliance on foreign technologies, and it is racing to create its own PC and mobile device platforms. Microsoft, as the primary seller of traditional PC software, is a semi-obvious target, and China has in the past accused the firm of working hand-in-hand with the US government, which is involved in its own international spying controversies.
And that last bit may ultimately explain China's actions. The China government is clearly afraid that Microsoft is helping the United States spy on the country.
Equally curious is that Microsoft doesn't appear to have actually done anything to interfere with China's trumped up antitrust investigation. Instead, the warning appears preemptive, and possibly is aimed at convincing Microsoft not to involve the US government in an ugly international incident.
"The SAIC does not want the US government to intercede on Microsoft's behalf," a Chinese professor who helped shape the country's antitrust laws with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce told The New York Times. "If Microsoft cooperates fully with this investigates we ultimately may not see such a harsh punishment."
And what might they be punished for? We still have no idea.