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Microsoft Offers Relocation Amid U.S.-China Tech Tensions

As tensions between the U.S. and China continue to escalate, Microsoft is making bold moves, urged teams based in China
May 16, 2024

Microsoft is making strategic moves in response to tightening regulations affecting its operations in China. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the tech giant has approached its cloud computing and artificial intelligence teams in China, urging them to consider relocating to other countries. 

The offer, extended mainly to Chinese engineers, includes the opportunity to transfer to several countries, including the United States, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as per sources familiar with the matter.

It is estimated that about 700 to 800 employees, primarily involved in machine learning and cloud computing, have been presented with this relocation opportunity.

A  Microsoft spokesperson confirmed the move, stating that the company had offered an "optional internal transfer opportunity" to a subset of its employees. However, the spokesperson did not disclose the exact number or the affiliations of the staff affected.

Despite these potential transfers, Microsoft remains committed to the region, asserting that this move would not impact its operations there.

Microsoft's Asia-Pacific research-and-development group, which employs approximately 7,000 engineers, has the majority of its workforce based in China, according to The Wall Street Journal.

This development comes in the context of U.S. efforts to curb China's access to advanced AI technology, which could have military applications. In recent years, the U.S. has imposed several restrictions on China, particularly targeting its ability to acquire advanced chips and chip-making equipment necessary for training AI models.

The Biden administration is reportedly considering further measures to control the export of advanced AI models, such as the large language model powering Microsoft-backed ChatGPT.

The concern primarily revolves around the potential misuse of AI models for cyber attacks or the development of biological weapons.

Earlier this year, Microsoft released a report highlighting that state-backed hackers from Russia, China, and Iran were utilizing tools from OpenAI, a company Microsoft has invested in, to enhance their hacking capabilities.

Despite increasing regulatory pressures, Microsoft has maintained a significant presence in China for over three decades, with the country hosting its largest R&D center outside of the United States.

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