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UK's Sunak heading to US for talks

By XING YI in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-07 08:53

US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attend an emergency meeting of global leaders in Bali, Indonesia, in this Nov 16, 2022 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]

The United Kingdom's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will fly to the United States on Wednesday, bringing with him for discussion with US President Joe Biden a range of issues that will reportedly include the management of artificial intelligence, or AI, and the new NATO secretary general.

The Telegraph newspaper said Sunak will use his trip to Washington to encourage Biden to back UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to take over at the top of NATO.

The term of the current head of the military alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, was meant to expire last year but was extended to September because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Sunak did not respond to questions about NATO directly at a news conference on Monday, but did praise Wallace's contribution, saying: "Ben is widely respected among his colleagues around the world."

Sunak also touted the UK's role in NATO, noting: "We're one of the only countries that participate in every single NATO operation. We are widely perceived as a thought leader in NATO."

Sunak is also expected to want to talk about the management of AI when he meets Biden in the White House on Thursday, the Financial Times newspaper reported.

Because the world is concerned about losing control of the fast development of AI, Sunak said the UK could "play a leadership role "in the sector, and he said he has discussed opportunities for global collaboration around the safe development of AI with the CEOs of Google and OpenAI.

Insiders in Downing Street told the paper, which is also known as the FT, that "the prime minister is very alive to the need for international alignment on approach to AI", and suggested Britain could be a host for any new international regulatory body.

Economic cooperation will also likely be high on the agenda for Sunak's visit, and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the two heads will discuss efforts to continue strengthening their economic relationship and also review developments in Northern Ireland as part of their shared commitment to preserving the gains of the Good Friday Agreement.

But a free-trade agreement, or FTA, between the US and the UK, which had been promoted as one of the prizes for the UK leaving the European Union, will not be on the table, according to the FT.

"We are not seeking to pursue a free-trade deal with the US," a spokesperson for Number 10 said last week. "It's worth remembering the trade relationship, as it currently stands, is worth 279 billion pounds ($346 billion) already. We have achieved all of that without an FTA."

Former BBC presenter Nicholas Owen said on GB News: "All British prime ministers get seduced by the White House … We are always told that so much will come out of it. Warm words will be said, but so little ever seems to come out."

The upcoming meeting between Sunak and Biden will be their fourth this year. The two met during the AUKUS defense summit in San Diego, United States, in March; on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast in April; and at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, last month.

Keith Bennett, a British international relations analyst, said the mainstream thinking in the UK is that the country can best maintain its position in the world by being closely aligned with the US.

"So, Britain has always clung to the United States as a way of maintaining its own power in the world," he said.

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