U.S. AI Companies and Chinese Experts Hold Secret Talks in Geneva

U.S. AI Companies and Chinese 
Experts Hold Secret Talks in Geneva
Lake Geneva. Credit: sam74100 via iStock/Getty

The Lede: According to a report from The Financial Times on Thursday, leading U.S. artificial intelligence (AI) companies recently held secret meetings with Chinese experts and institutions to discuss the responsible and safe future development of AI amid the intense rivalry that has developed between the two superpowers over the rapidly advancing technology.  

What We Know:

  • Multiple people with direct knowledge of the meetings told The Financial Times that scientists and policy experts from the two countries met both in July and October last year in Geneva, Switzerland, under the facilitation of the private mediation organization Shaikh Group with support from the White House, as well as officials from the U.K. and Chinese governments. 
  • Representatives of AI companies OpenAI, Anthropic, and Cohere met with representatives of Tsinghua University and other Chinese state-backed institutions. the FT reported. 
  • The talks focused on the path forward to the development of increasingly advanced AI with discussions about the risks associated with emerging AI technology and investments in AI safety research. The Chinese embassy in the U.K. expressed support for cooperation on global AI governance frameworks, norms, and standards. 
  • Chinese AI companies including ByteDance, Tencent, and Baidu were not part of the talks. Google DeepMind was briefed on the talks but also did not take part in Geneva. 

The Background: Washington recently imposed rounds of restrictions on trade and investment with Beijing in the area of semiconductors and technology. Policymakers have blocked U.S. exports of chips made by American companies such as Nvidia that are needed to develop advanced AI software. The U.S.-led chip policies have led other countries such as the Netherlands and Japan to follow suit with curbs on exports to China.

Likely Outcomes:

  • These talks likely will form a basis for the bilateral tone between China and the U.S. at the business and academic levels for approaching the disruptions that are expected to emerge from the development of advanced AI. Policy decisions likely will follow the results of these talks. Topics discussed at these meetings have already contributed to dialogues at the UN Security Council meeting on AI in July 2023 and the U.K.'s AI summit in November of the same year.
  • With the meetings publicized now, there may be some political pushback from China hawks in Washington as clandestine discussions about the sensitive topic of AI between the rivals comes as a surprise. The House Select Committee on the CCP would likely take great interest in these secret talks backed by the White House. In addition to AI, the group has sent a slew of inquiries to the Biden administration across various sectors from electric vehicles to telecommunications in the past year. It released a report last month calling for sweeping revisions to the economic and financial ties between Washington and Beijing, including revoking the advantages conferred to China after its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) more than two decades ago. To start, the Select Committee may request scrutiny and possible questioning of the U.S. AI companies involved.  The communications office of the Select Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


“We saw an opportunity to bring together key US and Chinese actors working on AI. Our principal aim was to underscore the vulnerabilities, risks and opportunities attendant with the wide deployment of AI models that are shared across the globe. Recognising this fact can, in our view, become the bedrock for collaborative scientific work, ultimately leading to global standards around the safety of AI models.”  - Salman Shaikh, chief executive of the Shaikh Group

“China supports efforts to discuss AI governance and develop needful frameworks, norms and standards based on broad consensus. China stands ready to carry out communication, exchange and practical co-operation with various parties on global AI governance, and ensure that AI develops in a way that advances human civilisation.”  - statement from the Chinese Embassy in the U.K.

Good Reads:

US companies and Chinese experts engaged in secret diplomacy on AI safety (FT)

US-based AI companies like OpenAI, Anthropic have been secretly engaging with Chinese experts over AI Safety (Firstpost)