OpenAI may not be available in China — but Microsoft Azure China might offer an unexpected loophole

Although OpenAI has pulled out of the Chinese market, Microsoft continues to offer OpenAI’s models through its cloud.

Jul 10, 2024 - 17:50
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OpenAI may not be available in China — but Microsoft Azure China might offer an unexpected loophole

Despite OpenAI’s recent announcement that it would leave the Chinese market by enforcing its policy to block users in nations outside of officially supported markets, many Chinese customers may still be able to use the GPT-powered AI chatbot.

Although the likes of Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have been rushing to fill the void left by California-based OpenAI, fans of ChatGPT can still use a very similar service through a Microsoft-enabled loophole.

Those with access to Azure cloud services will still be able to use GPT-powered generative AI functionalities in China, even though the startup responsible for GPT, OpenAI, has formally left the country.

Chinese customers can still use Microsoft’s ChatGPT

Although ChatGPT was blocked in China, developers valued its productivity benefits and circumvented restrictions by using VPNs. However, OpenAI’s abrupt decision to enforce the restriction, effective July 9, left many developers and companies relying on the technology scrambling to find a suitable alternative. Subsequently, Chinese LLM developers launched their own aggressive campaigns to attract ex-ChatGPT users.

However, those already familiar with the workings of ChatGPT will still be able to use it, just through a Microsoft-enabled loophole. Operated as a joint venture with domestic tech firm 21Vianet, Microsoft Azure China continues to provide OpenAI models in the country.

Microsoft China even encouraged developers to transition to Azure OpenAI via its official WeChat account (via Tom’s Hardware).

Three Azure China customers also confirmed to The Information that they still have uninterrupted access to OpenAI’s models through Microsoft’s platform.

While access currently remains available to Chinese customers, a bill aimed at simplifying the process of blocking US companies from selling AI technology to China is currently under consideration. If enacted, it could prevent Microsoft from being able to distribute OpenAI models to customers in China altogether, handing back its portion of the market to Chinese-owned rival companies.

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