Wired: Microsoft’s ‘Roots in China’ Are Key to Buying TikTok


Wired magazine recently published an article outlining how U.S. tech giant Microsoft is positioned to purchase TikTok as the Trump administration considers banning the social media site in the U.S due to national security concerns. Wired notes that alumni of Microsoft’s Beijing research lab are now executives at Alibaba, Tencent, SenseTime, and TikTok owner ByteDance.

Wired reports that Microsoft launched its Microsoft Research Center in Beijing in 1998, long before the country had come to technologically rival the United States. This gave Microsoft the chance to tap into a pool of engineering talent in Beijing that other countries did not have access to. Microsoft’s extended presence in the country allowed it to launch internet operations in China much more easily than other U.S. tech firms.

Wired outlines what Microsoft’s purchase of TikTok could please the communist Chinese government, writing:

The deal talks place Microsoft at the center of a widening fissure between the two increasingly hostile superpowers, potentially threatening the access to China that Microsoft has spent decades cultivating. Peter Navarro, a White House trade adviser who is a harsh critic of China, has suggested that the company may need to divest its China operations in order for the deal to work. Microsoft declined to comment.

The idea of a forced TikTok sale has met with severe criticism in China, but Microsoft may be unique in its ability to navigate the situation. “I don’t think that the Chinese government will be upset with Microsoft if the TikTok deal goes ahead,” says Anupam Chander, a professor at Georgetown University who studies China.

The fruits of Microsoft’s presence in China are visible across the country’s tech industry, with alumni in prominent positions at many major tech companies. At TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, CEO Zhang Yiming worked as an engineer for Microsoft between 2008 and 2009. Hongjiang Zhang, head of the ByteDance Technical Strategy Research Center, was a founding member of Microsoft Research Asia.

Nina Xiang, the founder of China Money Network, commented on Microsoft’s presence in the country stating that Microsoft Research Asia “is considered the West Point for Chinese premium tech talent.” Kai-Fu Lee is the founding head of Microsoft’s Beijing Lab and is an expert on natural language understanding who has held vice president roles at both Apple and Silicon Graphics. Lee now runs Sinovation Ventures, an artificial intelligence-focused investment firm.

In an interview with Wired in 2018, Lee said that Microsoft Research Asia played a major role in boosting China’s AI industry. Lee stated in the interview: “It was the most powerful company on earth, and Bill Gates was the richest person in the world and the number one idol in China,” Lee said. He noted that the founders of several Chinese AI companies focusing on facial recognition came through the lab. “We didn’t at the time know when the AI revolution would come, but we knew it was the next big thing.”

Read more at Wired here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com