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Microsoft Asks China AI Staff if They Want to Shift Abroad

Hundreds of engineers given the option to relocate overseas as Washington tightens China’s access to advanced US tech and ties have become strained over such issues

Microsoft's move comes as the US is reported to be is considering a regulatory push to restrict the export of AI models. Photo: Reuters.


US tech giant Microsoft has asked hundreds of its employees in China if they would like a transfer to work abroad.

The move, which the company confirmed on Thursday, comes as Washington tightens China’s access to advanced US technology that could assist its military, and bilateral ties have become strained over issues such as computer chips, artificial intelligence, tariffs and Taiwan.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, said Microsoft is asking about 700 to 800 of its employees – involved in machine learning and other work related to cloud computing – to consider relocating.


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“Providing internal opportunities is a regular part of managing our global business. As part of this process, we shared an optional internal transfer opportunity with a subset of employees,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an emailed statement, without specifying the number of employees it sent the request to.

Microsoft has about 7,000 engineers in its Asia-Pacific research-and-development group, and most of that workforce is based in China, the WSJ said.

The employees – mostly Chinese engineers – were offered the option early in the week to transfer to the US, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand, it said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Microsoft has had employees in China for several decades and says the country is home to its largest R&D centre outside America.

Its spokesperson said the company remains committed to China and will continue to operate there and other markets.

The move comes amid spiralling Sino-US relations after President Joe Biden’s administration hiked tariffs this week on various Chinese imports such as electric vehicles, EV batteries, computer chips, and medical products.

Earlier this month the US Commerce Department was reported to be considering a new regulatory push to restrict the export of proprietary or closed-source AI models, whose software and the data it is trained on are kept under wraps.


  • Reuters with additional input and editing by Jim Pollard



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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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