According to two individuals with knowledge of the situation, China plans to delegate Wu Zhaohui, who holds the position of Vice Minister of Science and Technology, to attend a global summit on artificial intelligence taking place in Britain this week.
The summit, scheduled for November 1–2, will gather representatives from AI companies, political figures, and experts. The primary objective is to engage in discussions regarding the perceived risks associated with the technology and work toward establishing an international consensus on its safe and responsible development.
Last week, China agreed to participate in the summit, which serves as another indication of improving relations. This development follows the visit of Britain’s top diplomat, James Cleverly, to Beijing in August, marking the first trip by a British foreign secretary to China in five years.
The United Kingdom is actively working to enhance its relationship with China, particularly after the connection reached its lowest point in decades during the tenure of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. During that period, London imposed certain restrictions on Chinese investment due to national security concerns and expressed apprehension regarding the crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong.
In recent months, there has been a notable rise in visits to China by senior British civil servants and former officials. Just this month, former Prime Minister Tony Blair traveled to Beijing and held discussions with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Beijing is actively working to strengthen its connections with the Labour Party in anticipation of a probable general election next year.
One of the sources, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the information, revealed that Wu Zhaohui will lead a delegation to the summit. This group will include representatives from the Chinese foreign ministry, various companies, and academic institutions, among them the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Alibaba (9988. HK), and Tencent (0700. HK).
Alibaba, Tencent, and the British Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office did not respond promptly to requests for comments. Similarly, China’s science ministry, foreign ministry, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comments.
Wu assumed his role in the science ministry in December 2022, as part of China’s efforts to restructure the ministry to allocate more resources towards achieving scientific breakthroughs and advancing towards self-reliance more rapidly.
The other source indicated that an initial invitation was extended to President Xi Jinping, and there was considerable debate over whether British authorities should invite any Chinese officials. Ultimately, the perspective was that not inviting China would be counterproductive. However, this source chose to remain anonymous because the information was confidential.
Like many other countries worldwide, China has been swept up in the global enthusiasm for generative AI, spurred by the popularity of OpenAI’s ChatGPT last year. China has now introduced at least 130 large language models developed by companies such as Alibaba and Tencent, accounting for 40% of the global total, just slightly behind the United States, which holds a 50% share, as reported by brokerage CLSA.
Reported by Laurie Chen in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; edited by Miral Fahmy.