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Azure Cloud Service Enables OpenAI Use in China Despite Ban

OpenAI restricts usage of its AI models in China, but users can still access the company's features through Microsoft's Azure platform.

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To bypass OpenAI's direct restrictions on its technology in , Chinese companies are leveraging Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, which operates locally through a joint venture with 21Vianet.

Azure's Function in Offering OpenAI Services

By partnering with 21Vianet, Azure provides services to eligible clients in China. This setup allows Chinese companies to harness OpenAI's conversational AI models through the Azure OpenAI Service, despite OpenAI not officially supporting its offerings in the region. 21Vianet, also known as VNET Group, Inc., is the biggest private internet data center service provider in China focusing on carrier neutrality. 

OpenAI maintains a policy of blocking unauthorized access from unsupported regions, including China. Starting from July 9, these restrictions are set to be more stringent. Nonetheless, Microsoft declares that there is no alteration in its in China, enabling Chinese firms to use models deployed internationally.

Effect on Chinese AI Development

The availability of OpenAI models via Azure in China can potentially impact local AI innovations. While OpenAI limits direct access, Microsoft's collaboration offers a conduit for Chinese firms to tap into OpenAI's advancements, potentially boosting AI progress in the country.

The Biden administration is pushing for more stringent oversight of major cloud providers like Microsoft to scrutinize foreign entities, particularly those developing AI technologies. This aligns with broader strategies to restrict China's access to advanced tech due to concerns over Beijing's rapid AI advancements.

China's Generative AI Patent Leadership

China leads globally in the filing of generative AI patents, surpassing the U.S., as reported by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This highlights the crucial role AI plays in China's tech strategy and the international competitive landscape.

OpenAI offers its services globally but enforces rules to block or suspend accounts from unsupported regions such as China. Despite these measures, Chinese companies continue to access OpenAI's API, indicating a strong demand for sophisticated in the area.

Microsoft is a long-time partner of OpenAI and has invested billions into the company. OpenAI uses Azure as its primary cloud platform. Microsoft helps the company develop its AI models and has integrated services like GPT and ChatGPT across its products. OpenAI AI can be found in across Windows, GitHhub, Dynamics, Cloud, and

Amid a major boardroom fallout that saw OpenAI CEO Sam Altman fired and then reinstated, Microsoft took a non-voting position on the OpenAI board. We recently saw Apple take a similar path. However, Microsoft has now chosen to give up its seat on the board, saying it has seen that OpenAI's new board is on the right path. 

Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke has been writing about all things tech for more than five years. He is following Microsoft closely to bring you the latest news about Windows, Office, Azure, Skype, HoloLens and all the rest of their products.
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