Three prominent Republican senators sent a strong letter to Google recently about the tech giant’s suspicious work with the Chinese company Huawei.
“[I]t is hard to interpret your decision to help Huawei place listening devices into millions of American homes as anything other than putting profits before country,” said the August 7 letter signed by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The letter is a step in the right direction and it shows our representatives want to take Big Tech companies to task for their dubious ties to China. But in their scrutiny of tech giants, the senators seemed to have overlooked Microsoft. Bill Gates’s company has worked extensively with the Chinese government as well.
Microsoft proudly boasts of this work. Here’s what the tech giant’s official website says about it:
Microsoft has expanded its business across the country under its strategy of long-term investment and development. Today, our most complete subsidiary and largest R&D center outside the United States is in China. Microsoft has been working closely with customers and industry partners to realize innovation and both localize and land Microsoft technologies and solutions in China. Microsoft boasts a robust partner ecosystem with 17,000 partners. For every RMB that Microsoft earns in China, Microsoft partners earn 16. In early 2015, Microsoft was awarded “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative of 2015 Companies in China” by Fast Company magazine due to its local product strategy and commitments to helping Chinese partners, and was included as one of “The Companies Remaking The Chinese Economy” along with Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and other companies.
Microsoft seems overjoyed with its relationship with China. Last month, the company vigorously denied it would move its manufacturing out of China due to President Trump’s trade war. The tariffs are a necessary price for Microsoft to pay to remain cozy with Communists.
Microsoft touted its close relationship with the Chinese government at a 2018 conference in Beijing. “We’re the first global cloud partner to provide a fantastic, compliant, and legal cloud with Azure and Office365 in China. With Windows 10 Government Edition we are designing the first ever Windows 10 for government and [state-owned enterprises],” said Microsoft Greater China Region Chairman Alan Crozier.
Being “compliant” means following China’s strict rules governing internet and tech policy. These rules require companies to prohibit speech critical of the Chinese Communist Party, provide state surveillance of users, and allow the government to interfere in company policies. This is the standard cost of doing business in China.
The tech giant is a leader in artificial intelligence products for China. Microsoft has partnered with several Chinese universities to create an open AI platform and several of its employees train government bureaucrats on how to use its advanced technology. These universities are well-connected to the Chinese military, which effectively makes Microsoft a collaborator. The tech giant has denied this assertion, claiming it only works with benign academic researchers. That claim is only believable if you ignore who uses the technology developed by these humble academics.
At least three AI projects have been developed with China’s National University of Defense Technology, an institution directly overseen by the nation’s military. American politicians accused Microsoft of providing tech to persecute ethnic minorities and political dissidents.
“It is deeply disturbing that an American company would be actively working with the Chinese military to further build up the government’s surveillance network against its own people—an act that makes them complicit in aiding the Communist Chinese government’s totalitarian censorship apparatus and egregious human rights abuses,” Marco Rubio said in April.
Other tech Microsoft is tailoring to the Chinese market includes drone software and voice recognition systems. In July, Microsoft announced it would be marketing its Kinect sensor to the Chinese market. The AI business tool allows developers to experiment with depth sensing and machine learning.
Peter Thiel has emerged as one of the strongest voices opposed to Big Tech’s cozy relationship with China. In a New York Times op-ed published earlier this month, Thiel cited Ash Carter, Barack Obama’s defense secretary, who said, “If you’re working in China, you don’t know whether you’re working on a project for the military or not.”
“No intensive investigation is required to confirm this,” Thiel wrote. “All one need do is glance at the Communist Party of China’s own constitution: Xi Jinping added the principle of ‘civil-military fusion,’ which mandates that all research done in China be shared with the People’s Liberation Army, in 2017.”
It’s doubtful Microsoft is an exception to this rule.
We cannot ignore Microsoft’s work in China. The tech giant needs to explain its relationship with the Chinese government and how it affects America’s national security. Our corporations should not serve America’s enemies. It’s time for them to put their homeland first—not China.