Microsoft search engine Bing is blocked in China

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Hong Kong (CNN Business)Microsoft’s Bing search engine has hit a wall in China.

“We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next steps,” a Microsoft spokesman said Thursday.

Bing was the last major foreign search engine operating in China after Google (GOOGL) pulled out in 2010. The development shows that even international tech companies that submit to Beijing’s strict internet censorship regime can still run into trouble in the country.

Chinese users first noticed problems late Wednesday, when the phrase “Can’t access Bing” started popping up on social media.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Bing was being blocked. China’s internet regulator didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft (MSFT), which recently overtook Apple (AAPL) as the world’s most valuable company, has faced setbacks in China before. The company’s internet video and phone call platform Skype was pulled from Apple and third-party Android app stores in China in November 2017.

US internet giants often face restrictions in China.

Top platforms like Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and YouTube have been blocked for years by a vast government censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall.

Chinese censors crack down on content and conversations about subjects deemed sensitive by Beijing, including the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet and criticism of President Xi Jinping. They also punish sites that fail to weed out material like pornography and crude content that the ruling Communist Party considers vulgar or otherwise harmful to society.

Bing was able to operate its Chinese site, cn.bing.com, because it censored search results.

Microsoft is part of the Internet Society of China, a government-linked body whose members pledge to refrain “from establishing links to websites that contain harmful information” or share any content which could “jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability, contravene laws and regulations and spread superstition and obscenity.”

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized international companies for adhering to Beijing’s strict censorship rules.

But China has hundreds of millions of internet users and a thriving online shopping market, making it impossible for top tech companies to ignore.

Google came under fire last year when news emerged that it was planning to launch a censored version of its search app in China. The company effectively left China in 2010 when it stopped running the censored Google.cn service.

Bing has struggled to make significant inroads in China, capturing just 2% of the search market.

Chinese tech firm Baidu is the dominant player, accounting for 70% of the market last year, according to research firm StatCounter. Alibaba-backed (BABA) Shenma is the second biggest with about 16%.

Nanlin Fang and James Griffiths contributed to this report.

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