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Sunak government politicizing AI if it hosts summit without Beijing's full participation: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-09-17 18:52

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly's visit to Beijing on Aug 30, during which the top UK diplomat said isolating China would be a mistake, was widely seen as an effort by the Rishi Sunak government to repair ties with Beijing, and make preparation for a possible meeting between the two sides on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

However, that positive momentum has proved to be short-lived, as there are anti-China forces within the political circle in London that are always ready to nip in the bud any improvement in relations with Beijing. It is probably no coincidence that almost immediately before the meeting between UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chinese Premier Li Qiang in the Indian capital on Sept 10, a UK parliamentary researcher was arrested on suspicion of spying for China.

The Chinese side has denied the accusation, telling the Sunak government the incident was "completely fabricated" and "nothing but malicious slander". Yet the incident still provided the China hawks with an excuse to pressure Sunak to dedicate considerable time of his first in-person meeting as the UK leader with the Chinese side raising strong concerns over China's "potential interference" in the UK's democracy.

The Sunak government's lack of autonomy in handling issues related to China is pathetically self-evident. It is always ready to subject its China policy to either domestic pressure or influence from Washington, even if it knows that is not in the UK's interest. Its flip-flopping over whether China will be invited to attend the Artificial Intelligence Safety Summit that the United Kingdom will host in early November, which is set to become an annual or biannual event for the drafting of rules and regulations for AI, shows how it has caught itself in a bind.

Initially, the Sunak government suggested that only "like-minded" governments would be invited to attend the summit. But it now appears to have backed away from this position, saying that "AI knows no borders" and emphasizing the need for the UK to engage with China on issues including AI. But due to the objection of Washington, it says China's presence will be "in some capacity", potentially on the sidelines of the conference.

That a Chinese delegation will attend the event to await decisions made by "like-minded" countries is ludicrous considering its leading role in the sector. Yet given Washington's objection to China's meaningful involvement, the summit seems intended to enable the US-led club to impose their own rules.

Instead of abusing the UK's identity as host to try and politicize technological issues and the global agenda, the Sunak government should show some backbone and invite China to take part as a full participant. If not, the summit will simply be a tool to help Washington enforce its "rules-based order" in the AI sector, rather than a meaningful means to address the risks posed by AI.

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