16th May 2024 – (Beijing) On a pivotal Tuesday in Geneva, a significant stride was made towards understanding and potentially harmonising U.S.-China relations concerning artificial intelligence (AI). This inaugural intergovernmental dialogue, co-chaired by key figures from both nations, marked a tentative step towards addressing mutual concerns over AI technology risks, governance, and the broader implications of AI on global stability.

Yang Tao from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and U.S. counterparts Seth Center and Tarun Chhabra led discussions that spanned a wide array of pressing issues. The dialogue was rich with professional exchanges that underscored the profound complexities and the dual-edged nature of AI—its boundless potential matched by significant risks.

China’s representation was robust, with delegates from the Ministry of Science and Technology among others, highlighting the country’s commitment to a comprehensive approach to AI discussions. The U.S. delegation, equally significant in composition, brought together experts from the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Department of Commerce, reflecting the multifaceted U.S. interest in AI.

During the talks, China reinforced its vision of AI development rooted in a people-centred approach, emphasising the need for AI technologies to be benevolent, safe, and equitable. The Chinese delegation advocated for enhancing global governance of AI and underscored the role of the United Nations as a pivotal channel for such governance. This perspective is geared towards crafting a global AI governance framework that is inclusive and consensus-driven, ensuring that AI development benefits humanity at large.

Moreover, China did not shy away from addressing contentious issues, openly criticising the U.S. for its perceived restrictive and suppressive measures against China in the realm of AI. This candid communication reflects a clear stance from China, seeking respect and equitable treatment in the global arena of emerging technologies.

The dialogue underscored a complex narrative of cooperation intertwined with competition. Both nations acknowledged the transformative impact of AI technologies and the dual spectrum of opportunities and challenges they present. There was a mutual recognition of the critical consensus reached by the heads of state in San Francisco, emphasising responsible development and deployment of AI.

However, the underlying tone of the discussions also hinted at the strategic competition, particularly from the U.S. perspective, which views AI as a pivotal arena of geopolitical rivalry. This is compounded by ongoing U.S. actions that seem to aim at curtailing China’s rapid advancements in AI, viewed by some as an attempt to maintain technological supremacy

The dialogue in Geneva is a nascent yet vital step towards establishing a framework for regular and constructive engagement between the U.S. and China on AI. It opens avenues for both nations to explore cooperative strategies that mitigate risks associated with AI, such as biases, privacy concerns, and potential military applications that could escalate global tensions.

For such dialogues to be fruitful, however, there is an imperative for genuine multilateral engagement free from the shadow of hypocrisy and unilateral restrictions. The U.S. must reassess its approach towards China, moving away from a zero-sum mentality that views China’s technological ascent as a threat, towards a more collaborative stance that recognises the mutual benefits of shared AI advancements.

As AI continues to redefine the contours of global power dynamics, the US-China dialogue on AI represents more than just bilateral engagement; it is a microcosm of the broader challenges facing global governance of emerging technologies. The path to a stable and equitable AI-governed future lies in sincere, transparent, and inclusive international cooperation. It is incumbent upon global leaders, especially from the U.S. and China, to set aside parochial interests and prioritise a collective strategy that safeguards global stability and harnesses AI’s potential for the greater good of humanity. The world is watching, and history will judge the actions taken today to shape the AI landscape of tomorrow.