This working paper considers whether and to what extent international collaboration with China on AI can endure. China has been a subject of discussions among the government officials and experts participating in the Forum for Cooperation on AI (FCAI) over the past two years. The 2021 FCAI progress report identified the implications of China’s development and use of AI for international cooperation.The report touched on China in connection with several of the recommendations regarding regulatory alignment, standards development, trade agreements, and R&D projects but also focused on Chinese policies and applications of AI that present a range of challenges in the context of that nation’s broader geopolitical, economic, and authoritarian policies. A roundtable discussion on December 8, 2021 presented these issues to FCAI participants more fully and elicited their views.
This paper expands and distills this work with a focus on the scope, benefits, and prospective limits of China’s involvement in international AI R&D networks. In Part I, it presents the history of China’s AI development and extraordinarily successful engagement with international R&D and explains how this history has helped China become a global leader in the field. Part II shows how China has become embedded in international AI R&D networks, with China and the United States becoming each other’s largest collaborator and China also a major collaborator with each of the other six countries participating in FCAI. This collaboration takes place through multiple pathways: enrollment at universities, conferences, joint publications, and work in research labs that all operate in various ways to develop, disseminate, and deploy AI.
Part III then provides an overview of the economic, ethical, and strategic issues that call into question whether such levels of collaboration on AI can continue, as well as the challenges and disadvantages of disconnecting the channels of collaboration. The analysis then looks at how engagement with China on AI R&D might evolve. It does so primarily through a U.S.-focused lens because the U.S., as by far China’s largest competitor and collaborator in AI, provides an umbrella and a template for countries and FCAI participants that also collaborate with China on AI R&D and face many of the same issues. Moreover, measures to respond to the challenges China presents are more likely to be effective in coordination than in isolation. Recent U.S. export controls on semiconductors and the technologies used to manufacture them have laid bare the critical role of countries such as Japan and Korea. For now, the U.S. government is able to force foreign compliance through administrative measures, such as the foreign direct product rule, but these mechanisms may be made moot if foreign manufacturers engineer U.S. technology out of their supply chain. This paper deals with cooperative research rather than hardware supply chains, but similar dynamics exist across these domains. Accordingly, this paper is not just about collaboration with China but also about collaboration in relation to China.