Microsoft China
Microsoft looking to relocate AI & cloud staff from China, offering transfers to US, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand. Twitter / Mario Nawfal @MarioNawfal

Microsoft is reportedly offering relocation to hundreds of its machine learning and cloud computing employees in China.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cites unnamed sources, Microsoft is surveying up to 800 China-based employees about potential relocation amid ongoing tensions between the US and China.

This follows Microsoft President Brad Smith's meeting with China's Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao just months ago, where they discussed key issues like artificial intelligence, economic cooperation, and trade relations.

Microsoft Seeks to Move AI Talent Out of China

Sources told WSJ that the Satya Nadella-led software giant is offering to relocate machine learning and cloud computing specialists to the US, Ireland, and Australia. A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that internal transfer opportunities are standard practice while emphasising the company's continued commitment to China.

As tensions rise between the US and China, particularly over sensitive technology like AI, a new report suggests Chinese scientists have developed advanced military surveillance tech that could significantly boost their battlefield detection capabilities.

This development will likely impact the ongoing competition between the US and China for dominance in the electromagnetic spectrum. Meanwhile, the Biden administration reportedly plans to introduce new rules, forcing American tech companies to have licenses before providing Chinese customers access to their AI chips.

Some worry this could escalate tensions with China, a major buyer of these chips. In response, China has been pushing its tech companies to buy domestically-made chips instead of relying on foreign suppliers like Nvidia.

The Information report suggests that the Chinese government is actively directing tech giants like Alibaba and ByteDance to prioritise domestic chips. This could be a significant shift in China's chip consumption patterns.

AI Talent Caught In The Crosshairs

The ongoing US-China tensions add another layer of uncertainty for Nvidia as a large portion of the chip maker's sales comes from China. This heavy reliance makes them vulnerable to changes in the Chinese market. As a result, Nvidia might have to navigate complex trade regulations and political pressure from both sides.

Apple, another US-based tech giant, is taking steps to lessen its dependence on China for manufacturing. The company is expected to diversify its supply chain to other Southeast Asian countries or bring some production back to the US.

While Apple grapples with its position in China, the US and China recently met in Geneva to discuss another hot-button tech issue: artificial intelligence. While the US voiced concerns about China's "misuse of AI," China refuted those claims and criticised US "restrictions and pressure" on the technology.

Despite attempts to find common ground on managing AI risks, the recent meeting in Geneva between US and Chinese officials underscored the deep disagreements between the two superpowers.

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson stated the discussions were "candid and constructive," focusing on "respective approaches to AI safety and risk management."
These initial US-China talks on AI, stemming from a November meeting between Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping, aimed to address the concerns and hopes surrounding this powerful technology. However, the recent conference in Geneva revealed deep divides still exist.

"The United States underscored the importance of ensuring AI systems are safe, secure and trustworthy to realise these benefits of AI — and of continuing to build global consensus on that basis," Watson said.

Referring to the People's Republic of China, she added: "The United States also raised concerns over the misuse of AI, including by the PRC."

While the US and China remain at odds over AI governance, figures like Elon Musk have attempted to bridge the gap, advocating for international collaboration on safety standards.

Musk's reported push for China data to power Tesla's AI development seems like a pragmatic move for Tesla's self-driving ambitions, but it could further complicate the US-China relationship on AI.