Ballmer defends Microsoft as China plays up Gates' comments

'Bill Gates bats for China,' said a headline in one official Chinese paper

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer defended the company's presence in China in a message on Wednesday, after Chinese media seized on a statement by Bill Gates about Chinese Web censorship being "very limited."

"We have done business in China for more than 20 years and we intend to stay engaged, which means our business must respect the laws of China,"

[ The hacking risks remain even if companies withdraw from China. | The U.S. has asked the Chinese government for an explanation, saying the Google hack raises serious concerns. ]

Ballmer wrote on a Microsoft blog. "Microsoft is opposed to restrictions on peaceful political expression, and we have conversations with governments to make our views known."

The message came after Chinese state-run newspapers this week prominently quoted Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates playing down China's Internet censorship. "Bill Gates bats for China," read a top headline in the English version of the state-run Global Times. The official China Daily also ran the comments by Gates.

The articles were part of a Chinese media blitz defending the country's Internet regulation after Google recently threatened to leave China over censorship and hacking attempts.

"Fortunately the Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited," Gates said this week in an interview on ABC's Good Morning America. "It's easy to go around" the government controls, he said. China blocks Web sites like YouTube and Facebook, but savvy Internet users there can still access them via proxy servers or other tools.

"Different countries have different rules about censorship," Gates said. "So you've got to decide, do you want to obey the laws of the countries you're in or not?"

Google has said it plans to stop following China's requirement to censor search results on its China-based search engine, even if that means being forced out of the country altogether. Ballmer reacted earlier this month by saying Microsoft would stay in China.

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