Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, took the rare step of standing up for arch-rival Google today as he argued that state censorship was no reason for technology companies not to do business in China.
“I do think information flow is happening in China … saying that even by existing there contributions to a national dialogue have taken place. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s been a huge plus.”
Of course, since Microsoft continues to operate in China under similar constraints, it’s not exactly a selfless move.
Mr Gates also highlighted the attractions of China as a market. The country is set to become the biggest user of broadband in the world. Mr Gates said that “no one will catch up [except] maybe India in 50 years”.
He added that despite the disparity between China’s urban and rural areas, the country was on track toward reducing poverty, a move that would mean more people would be able to afford broadband internet access.
But there is a downside to all those potential Microsoft customers:
Software piracy is a problem that will likely be solved over time, because as Chinese-made technology evolves, the country’s respect for intellectual property rights will improve, he added.
“We are always upset that they aren’t paying us for our products, but we’re not going to pick up and go home,” Mr Gates said.
More on that point in Gates’ earlier Davos statement.