China has launched a probe against American soft drinks giant Coca-Cola for its alleged spying activities in the country amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing over cyber attacks and espionage allegations.
Chinese authorities have accused Coca-Cola of conducting illegal mapping in many sensitive areas in the country, according to a report in South China Morning Post, Thursday.
Apparently, the top intelligence authorities are involved in the investigation, which is being conducted jointly by the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation and the Ministry of State Security, South China Morning Post reported.
"We understand that espionage is a serious charge against a world famous company," an official from the administration told the South China Morning Post. "We are still in the process of gathering information."
Probe is launched against many subsidiaries of the Coca-Cola and covers multiple provinces in the country on whether the company used location-finding technology in violation of the country’s laws against illegal map-making, the official said.
"What we can say for now is that many subsidiaries of Coca-Cola are involved and this happens in many provinces. Due to the sheer scale of the case, the complexity of the technology involved and the implication to our national security, we are working with the Ministry of State Security on this."
The news did not come as a surprise as two days earlier, Li Pengde, deputy director of the administration, had openly accused the beverage major of spying. In a program on national radio, he said some of its employees were caught while attempting to collect classified geographic information using handheld GPS devices in Yunnan Province.
There were about 21 similar cases of alleged illegal spying reported in the province, which is being investigated by the authorities, Li Pengde said without divulging further details.
Map-making and related activities are highly restricted in China for national security concerns and the companies and providers of map services are required to get prior permission and licenses from the government. It is also mandatory for the map providers to locate their servers in China mainland.
In a statement, Coca-Cola said they are fully cooperating with the Chinese investigation. The company said its trucks use GPS-based customer logistics system to improve customer services and fuel efficiency.
"These customer logistics systems are broadly used for commercial application across many industries in China and worldwide," the company spokesperson told the Associated Press.
"After being contacted by local authorities, our bottling plants have cooperated fully with their enquiries to ensure that our customer logistics systems are in full compliance with current regulations."