He has been on the job for just one week, but Michael Rawding already has his work cut out for him. As Microsoft's president for Asia-Pacific, he has the daunting task of selling software in a market where consumers seem to be more interested in stealing intellectual property than paying for it. According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), 91 per cent of software used in China last year was illegally copied or counterfeit. It is estimated the theft cost developers US$645 million in 1999. The story in other Asian countries is not much better. 'In Asia, we definitely have some major issues with piracy,' said Mr Rawding. 'Where there is a high rate of piracy for us it means it is harder to justify certain investments.' The scope of Mr Rawding's territory is overwhelming. More than half of the people on the planet live in the region which stretches from Japan to India. And Asia is no longer an economic backwater for multinational corporations. Microsoft's Asia-Pacific division already accounts for about 20 per cent of the company's US$23 billion annual revenue, and the portion continues to increase. Asia has been the fastest growing market for three successive years, and shows no sign of slowing, even as the US economy begins to sputter. 'Japan is already our second-biggest market outside of the United States, and we do not see that changing anytime soon,' Mr Rawding said. 'And then you have India and China developing as interesting and exciting markets in their own rights, but also as important centres of research and development in the software world as well.' Mr Rawding said Microsoft was investing more aggressively in Asia than anywhere else in the world. In 1998, it opened a development centre in Hyderabad, India, and it is set to employ 200 people by this year. It has set up a research laboratory in Beijing, only the second of its type outside the US. The lab employs 50 researchers who are looking at voice recognition and other communications systems. Key in Microsoft's hopes for Asia are the six million PCs expected to be sold on the mainland this year. China is expected to soon become the second-largest market for new computers in the world, and more than 80 per cent of the systems sold run on Windows. Despite the region's promise, piracy remains a stumbling block to the software giant's plans. Alongside China, some of the worst piracy rates anywhere exist in Asia. In Hong Kong, where there has been a campaign to crack down on counterfeiting, the piracy rate is said to still linger near 56 per cent. Even in Japan, where piracy rates are lower, the sheer amount of software in use has pushed annual losses to an estimated US$975 million. The numbers are amazing - and some say artificially inflated by companies such as Microsoft that are the driving force behind the BSA - but they are taken seriously by manufacturers and developers. Mr Rawding said Microsoft would continue to encourage Asian governments to find ways to beat piracy. Mr Rawding, based in Japan, has been with Microsoft for eight years. He was most recently in Beijing for three years as the director for Greater China.