When US President Donald Trump hosts his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for dinner in Buenos Aires on Saturday, the stakes could not be much higher. It will be the first bilateral meeting between the two leaders since the start of the US-China trade war, which is set to escalate further in January if the two leaders fail to reach a deal this weekend. The dinner is widely perceived as the last chance to avert a broad-based economic clash that would likely last for at least two years, with ramifications for the global economy. Before the sideline meeting, Al Jazeera examines how the world's two largest economies got here and what happens next. Trump's hostility to Chinese economic policy dates back to his presidential campaign in 2016 and has been consistent over the past two years.
On July 20, China's State Council issued the "Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan" (新一代人工智能发展规划), which articulates an ambitious agenda for China to lead the world in AI. China intends to pursue a "first-mover advantage" to become the "premier global AI innovation center" by 2030. Through this new strategic framework, China will advance a "three in one" agenda in AI: tackling key problems in research and development, pursuing a range of products and applications, and cultivating an AI industry. The Chinese leadership thus seeks to seize a "major strategic opportunity" to advance its development of AI, potentially surpassing the United States in the process. This new plan, which will be implemented by a new AI Plan Promotion Office within the Ministry of Science and Technology, outlines China's objectives for advances in AI in three stages.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a new arena for engagement and competition between the United States and China. In July, China's State Council published the New Generation AI Development Plan (新一代人工智能发展规划) which declared, "AI has become a new focal point of international competition. AI is a strategic technology that will lead the future," articulating China's ambition to "lead the world" and become the "premier AI innovation center" by 2030 (State Council, July 20). Perhaps recognizing that a new era has begun, the U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) published in mid-December announced, "To maintain our competitive advantage, the United States will prioritize emerging technologies critical to economic growth and security" (National Security Strategy, December 18). In particular, the NSS highlights that AI is advancing especially rapidly and could present growing risks to U.S. national security going forward, while characterizing China as a "strategic competitor" that unfairly seeks to "unfairly tap into [U.S.] innovation" through the theft of intellectual property and "cyber-enabled economic warfare." Concurrently, the U.S. and China are pursuing military applications of AI, recognizing its potential to transform the character of future conflict (State Council, July 20; Battlefield Singularity, November 28).
The idea of an artificial intelligence (AI) arms race between China and the United States is ubiquitous. Before 2016, there were fewer than 300 Google results for "AI arms race" and only a handful of articles that mentioned the phrase. Today, an article on the subject gets added to LexisNexis virtually every week, and Googling the term yields more than 50,000 hits. Some even warn of an AI Cold War. One question that looms large in these discussions is if China has, or will soon have, an edge over the United States in AI technology.
Are the U.S., China, and Russia recklessly undertaking an "AI arms race"? Clearly, there is military competition among these great powers to advance a range of applications of robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems. So far, the U.S. has been leading the way. AI and autonomy are crucial to the Pentagon's Third Offset strategy. Its Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team, Project Maven, has become a "pathfinder" for this endeavor and has started to deploy algorithms in the fight against ISIS.