Microsoft Offers To Relocate Some China Staffers Amid US Efforts To Curb Beijing’s AI Access, Report Says

Published 1 month ago
By Forbes | Siladitya Ray
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TOPLINE

Microsoft has asked some of its artificial intelligence and cloud business employees in China to consider moving out of the country, according to a Wall Street Journal report, amid ongoing geopolitical and trade tensions between Washington and Beijing as the Biden administration attempts to curb China’s access to advanced technology, including AI.

KEY FACTS

Citing unnamed people familiar with the matter, the Journal reported that around 700 to 800 Microsoft staffers in China have received offers to move to countries including the U.S., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

The staffers in question are mostly engineers of Chinese nationality working on machine learning and cloud computing.

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The tech giant responded to the report, saying internal transfers are a “regular part” of its global operations, and confirmed “an optional internal transfer opportunity” was offered to some workers.

Microsoft said it remains committed to its China business and will continue to operate there.

It is unclear if any of the workers have taken up Microsoft’s offer and what impact a large number of transfers would have on Microsoft’s cloud business and AI research efforts in China.

NEWS PEG

Earlier this month, Reuters reported the Biden administration was planning fresh restrictions against exports of proprietary AI models like those that power Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini to certain adversarial nations like China and Russia. There are currently no restrictions on companies like OpenAI, Microsoft and Google from selling or licensing their advanced AI models to almost any foreign entities. U.S. government officials are concerned that these advanced models—trained on a large amount of data—may be misused by rival powers. In February, Microsoft and OpenAI reported that cyber threat actors from Russia, China, and Iran have been using the ChatGPT-maker’s tools to increase the sophistication of their attacks.

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TANGENT

Last month, Microsoft announced an investment of $1.5 billion in the United Arab Emirates-based AI firm G42. Microsoft said the deal had been carried out in “close coordination with the governments of both the UAE and the United States.” The deal was reportedly orchestrated by the two governments after the Biden administration expressed concerns about G42’s close links with Chinese firms. To address U.S. concerns ahead of the deal, the UAE-based firm agreed to phase out the use of Chinese equipment and divested its stakes in Chinese companies including TikTok’s parent ByteDance.

KEY BACKGROUND

Efforts to curb China’s access to AI software and services follow the Biden administration’s crackdown on shipments of advanced AI chips, like the ones designed by Nvidia, to China. In October last year, U.S. officials unveiled new rules under which AI chipmakers need to obtain special licenses to sell their semiconductors to China and other adversarial countries, including Iran and Russia.

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