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Microsoft Asks Some Staff In China To Relocate Amid Cracks in US-Sino Relations

Microsoft has reportedly asked some of its China-based staff to consider transferring outside the country.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that Microsoft was asking about 700 to 800 people involved in machine learning and other cloud computing-related work to consider relocating.

The employees, mostly engineers of Chinese nationality, were offered an option to transfer to the US, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

“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.

Microsoft employs around 7,000 engineers for its Asia-Pacific research-and-development group, with the majority based in China. It entered the China market over three decades ago in 1992.

The Redmond-headquartered company’s move comes at a time when the US is demanding that China do not support Russia or provide it technology that could help it in its war in Ukraine. The US is also seeking to limit China’s ability to develop AI technology, which could be used for military purposes.

Over the last two years, the US has placed waves of restrictions on China limiting its ability to buy advanced chips and chip-making equipment that can be deployed to train AI models.

Just this month, the US revoked licences issued to Intel and Qualcomm for sales of chips to Huawei. Last year, Huawei surprised the world when it released its Mate pro 60 with a 7nm chip – something that completely blindsided the US who were convinced that China did not have the capability to do so and was still only capable of producing 14nm chips. With the current rate of advancement, China is threatening to get to the US’ current capability of accessing 3nm chips from TSMC.

Beyond chips, the US is also seeking to limit China’s advancements in the AI space and its access to large language models that powers Microsoft-backed applications such as ChatGPT.

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