Microsoft advises China-based AI employees to relocate as geopolitical tensions flare 


The move comes days after the US raised tariffs on Chinese imports 

Microsoft is asking around 800 China-based staff working in cloud-computing and AI to consider relocating, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. 

The employees, most of which are Chinese citizens working as engineers, have been offered relocation opportunities to countries including the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. 

In a statement, Microsoft confirmed that it had “shared an optional internal transfer opportunity with a subset of employees”, adding that such options were “a regular part of managing our global business”.  

The company also stressed that it remains “committed to the region and will continue to operate in this and other markets where we have a presence”. 

Tensions between China and the US have been growing in recent years as the superpowers vie for dominance over rapidly advancing technologies, such as AI and semiconductors. The US not only fears that China’s rapid technological advancements could undermine its own global economic and military power, but is also wary of the links that Chinese tech companies have to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). National security concerns over Chinese technology have led the US to sanction numerous Chinese companies, most notably Huawei. 

To mitigate its reliance on Chinese companies and technology, the US is investing heavily in domestic tech production, most notably in semiconductors via the CHIPS and Science Act, which includes $39 billion in chip manufacturing subsidies 

These chip tensions have been in the media recently with the US Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, slamming the technology behind Huawei’s newest Mate 60 Pro smartphone, saying that the chips used are still not as advanced as American alternatives. She also confirmed that, whilst wanting to trade with China on the majority of goods and services, the US categorically would not do so on “those technologies that affect our national security”. 

Microsoft’s decision to quietly attempt to relocate Chinese staff working on key technologies suggests that the company sees little signs of tensions between China and the US easing any time soon.  

In related news, Microsoft has also published its 2024 Environmental Sustainability Report in which it revealed that the company’s emissions have risen by 30%.  

The company stated in the report that infrastructure and electricity required to support new technology like generative AI is making reaching its sustainability goals difficult. Despite this, the company did double down on its commitment to become carbon negative, water positive, and zero waste by 2030. To contribute to this, it will ask its largest suppliers to use 100% renewable energy by the end of the decade.  

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s three main suppliers  – Samsung, SK Hynix, and Taiwanese manufacturer RealTek – all have net zero targets set later than 2030; Samsung is aiming to use 100% renewable energy by 2050, SK Hynix 33% by 2030, and RealTek 25% by 2030.  

Although the three companies have not commented on the news, Microsoft has said it will help them meet its sustainability requirements. 

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