Microsoft's China AI teams face relocation amid US tightened restrictions

Chia-Han Lee, Taipei; Jerry Chen, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

Microsoft's headquarters has reportedly instructed the head of its China division to require its Chinese AI developers to either relocate to countries such as the United States and Australia or opt for resignation.

This directive affects several AI teams in China, including C+AI, Azure ML, and Azure Core, among others. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has stated that Microsoft's Asia-Pacific R&D group, primarily operates in China, consists of approximately 7,000 engineers.

Termination or relocation

According to Chinese media outlet Tencent, employees who received the notice must decide by June 7th whether to accept termination or relocation. Microsoft has indicated it can assist with resolving visa issues for immediate family members.

WSJ cited a source estimating that 700 to 800 employees received the relocation request. Many of which are involved in machine learning and cloud computing-related work.

Rumors suggest that the Microsoft China C+AI team may relocate to Seattle, while the Azure ML team is expected to move to Australia. Additionally, some teams may be relocated to countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or Ireland. Microsoft has designated all destinations, and employees do not have the option to choose.

In a statement to China Daily, Microsoft noted that a small number of employees in China have the option to select international rotations. These employees can decide whether to accept the rotation or remain in their current roles.

Microsoft denied rumors of a "collective relocation to the US," asserting that such claims were exaggerated and inaccurate. A spokesperson reaffirmed to WSJ of the company's commitment to the region, emphasizing that Microsoft will continue its operations in China.

Sino-US exchange AI fire

This decision coincides with the Biden administration's recent efforts to tighten restrictions on China's AI development capabilities, as reported by the Telegraph. The White House is reportedly considering implementing regulations that would require companies like Microsoft to obtain a license before providing AI chips to customers in China.

Reuters reported that Washington and Beijing recently held their first official closed-doors AI dialogue concerning AI safety and risk management in Geneva. Following the meeting, the US representative expressed concerns about AI misuse in China, while Beijing criticized the US's "restrictions and pressure" in separate statements.