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BlackBerry CEO: China is not a priority

An expansion into China could put BlackBerry's security reputation at risk, John Chen tells Reuters.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen sees some issues in China. Brian Bennett/CNET

As the world's largest smartphone market, China represents a big opportunity for device makers. BlackBerry, however, has decided not to expand into the country -- for now.

John Chen, who became the smartphone maker's CEO last November, doesn't see China as a viable option for his operation right now, he told Reuters in an interview published on Friday.

"It takes too long to ramp up to a size that is even reasonable [in China]," Chen told Reuters. "Even if I have that time and money I'll probably have better returns going into a different set of markets that we are already in, like India, South Asia and Southeast Asia."

One major obstacle to going after customers in China is information security, which Chen has made a key part of BlackBerry's turnaround. While Chen previously said China is "too big a market to ignore," he's concerned that an expansion in the country would require a deal with the government over how requests for user data are handled. Blackberry would need to be able to provide a level of security that both Chinese and Western authorities are "comfortable" with, Chen told Reuters.

"I don't want to get sucked into a geopolitical equation," he told Reuters.

China is notorious for requesting user data in an attempt to quell unrest and maintain censorship. Many companies capitulate to those demands to stay on the good side of the government and capitalize on the country's burgeoning consumer market. Throughout its history, BlackBerry has resisted providing user data to authorities and says its encryption makes it nearly impossible to generate some requested information.

Earlier this month, Chen said BlackBerry has survived its toughest times and now wants to The struggling handset maker withdrew from the broader consumer market over the last year, focusing instead on the corporate and government world where security and a tactile keyboard are more valued. Orders for the square BlackBerry Passport phone got off to a promising start in September and have reportedly since increased. BlackBerry also offered more details on a new version of its mobile-device management software for enterprise customers, BlackBerry Enterprise Service 12, on Thursday. The software brings secure group collaboration and two-factor authentication to BlackBerry devices, and will also work with Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems.

Still, BlackBerry doesn't plan to completely ignore China. There are still "opportunities" in China that BlackBerry will explore, Chen told Reuters.

BlackBerry did not respond to a request for comment.