- A local Chinese government has accused Coca-Cola of illegally mapping parts of Yunnan province
- The claims are part of a war of words between China and the US over cyber espionage
The government of a remote province in western China says it is investigating Coca-Cola over allegations that it illegally mapped parts of the province, as China and the US engage in an escalating war of words over cyber espionage.
The Yunnan Geographical Information Bureau of Surveying and Mapping said the US drinks company had been "illegally collecting classified information with handheld GPS equipment", according to a Yunnan government website.
Coca-Cola said it had "co-operated fully" with the inquiry, adding that local bottling plants use "e-map and location-based customer logistics systems that are commercially available in China" to improve customer service and fuel efficiency.
"These customer logistics systems are broadly used for commercial application across many industries in China and worldwide," the company said.
The Yunnan government said the Coca-Cola case was one of 21 instances of alleged illegal surveying under investigation in the area, which also included others' illegal sales of classified military maps online, aerial photography by unmanned aircraft, and illegal surveying of military bases.
The bureau gave no further details of the Coca-Cola investigation, but a bureau official who gave his surname as Han said the investigation would end soon. "We will announce the results when it ends," he told the Financial Times in an interview. "It is a bit sensitive. I don't know how it got published," he added.
China National Radio broadcast an interview with Li Mingde, the deputy director of the Yunnan bureau involved in investigating Coke, who said it was "urgent" to punish cases of illegal mapping.
"Some people are profiting from collecting information, including providing it to some foreign intelligence agencies," he said, noting that when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by the US in 1999, the US blamed it on an inaccurate map. "Mapping information can be used by enemies. So it must be restricted," he said. Coke declined to respond to his comments.
Beijing and Washington have recently ratcheted up their mutual accusations about cyberspying, with the White House on Monday calling on China to take "serious steps" to stop extensive hacking of US companies and start negotiating international rules for behaviour in cyberspace.
The comments in the New York Times and other leading newspapers followed reports of Chinese hacking, as well as high-profile research from US cybersecurity company Mandiant which for the first time linked extensive cyberattacks on US businesses to a specific unit of the Chinese military in Shanghai.
A recent New York Times report on hacking by the military unit said Coca-Cola had itself been a target.
Yang Jiechi, China's foreign minister, has rejected allegations of Chinese military involvement in hacking. "Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve their political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others or whitewash themselves," he said at the weekend.
Additional reporting by Gu Yu in Beijing and Yan Zhang in Shanghai