Navigating the Tightrope: U.S. and China Converses on Risks and Safety of AI

The U.S.-China relationship has evolved into a multifaceted interplay of economic interdependence, cultural differences, and geopolitical rivalries.

Since the 1900’s the relationship between the United States (U.S.) and China have been complex. From the boycotts of trade in 1904 to the 1922 anti-missionary movement in China, these relations have teetered on the cusp of mutual understanding and strained diplomacy. Over the decades, the geopolitical landscape has witnessed a series of ebbs and flows, marked by periods of cooperation and collaboration juxtaposed with suspicion and competition. The U.S.-China relationship has evolved into a multifaceted interplay of economic interdependence, cultural differences, and geopolitical rivalries, shaping the dynamics of global affairs. As nations navigate the 21st century, the complexities persist, and the trust between these two global giants remains a delicate equilibrium that demands astute diplomatic navigation and strategic foresight.

International agreements are a valuable aspect of global affairs. They allow nations to come together on issues impacting the globe to develop guidelines providing a sense of shared responsibility on certain matters. While international agreements are designed to offer sovereign nations a platform for unity, not all nations adhere to the commitments they make. For example, China has implemented a ‘strike hard’ campaign against the Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, violating human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This ‘do as I say not as I do’ mentality has created justified tensions and suspicion for China on the international stage. The question remains “Can China be trusted?”

There is a delicate balance of trust and skepticism in diplomatic relations. The relations between the U.S. and China are not excluded from this frame of thinking. The interdependence of the two countries has put both nations at a crossroads. Yet, technology advances and the competition between powers reigns on. This competition creates skepticism when two vastly different worlds collide. Technology such as satellites, electronic warfare, and hypersonic weapons create a dynamic and evolving landscape in modern warfare, redefining the nature of strategic capabilities and geopolitical competition.

These advancements not only enhance surveillance and communication capabilities through satellites but also introduce new dimensions of complexity with electronic warfare, challenging traditional paradigms of defense and offense. The development of these technologies provides nations an opportunity to advance in different disciplines such as academia, environmental science, engineering, and seeing worlds beyond the naked eye. Yet, these technologies highlight the need for nations to adapt to emerging threats, revise military doctrines, and pursue innovative technologies to maintain a competitive edge in a rapidly changing environment.

This fast-paced evolution of technology requires international collaboration, which ultimately requires a level of trust between nations. Recently, the U.S. and China began talks about the risks and safety of Artificial Intelligence (AI). So how can two governments, competing in this technologically advancing world with distinct cultural and political beliefs, establish ‘trust’ amidst their divergent pursuits for supremacy? These governments persistently rival for ultimate power, and the reality is that the U.S. and China find themselves economically interdependent.

These economic interdependences can foster cooperation, promoting shared interests and mutual benefits on the global stage. However, within these intricate webs of economic ties, there exist inherent risks and vulnerabilities that nations must navigate cautiously. The dependence on one another for crucial resources or markets can create susceptibility to economic downturns, trade disputes, or geopolitical tensions. Both nations must strike delicate balance between cooperation and safeguarding national interests by necessitating strategic foresight and diplomatic judgment to mitigate potential vulnerabilities and ensure a stable and resilient global economic framework.

These current conversations may serve as a conduit for cultivating ‘topic trust’ between nations in conflict. Perhaps the U.S. and China can agree that AI is a powerful tool that if not utilized properly, could have serious consequences. AI stands as a potent instrument capable of faster data processing, augmenting educational experiences, and disseminating information. However, similar to numerous technological innovations, this power is accompanied by the ability for instigating fear, obscurity, and disinformation. Consequently, a pertinent question arises: Can the United States and China effectively harness such technological prowess without precipitating mutual destruction?

The U.S. and China both realize the power of AI and how it can enhance capabilities, such as military capabilities. Yet, with such a technology comes the responsibility determine ethical frameworks, establish robust regulatory measures, and engage in international collaboration to ensure the judicious and ethical deployment of AI for the collective benefit of societies globally. The world has evolved, nations have continually competed, and militaries continue to search for the most robust capabilities. AI is not just a tool that simulates human intelligence but could potentially transform into a weapon system.

In this regard, the U.S. and China must exercise prudence in assessing the potential risks and safety considerations associated with AI, particularly given their shared recognition of the strategic significance of AI in military applications. The challenge lies in whether these nations are prepared to reach a consensus on defining acceptable parameters within the realm of AI. The inherent difficulty in such agreements stems from the fact that they intrinsically impose restrictions on the capabilities each nation can wield. The pursuit of common ground amid divergent national interests and security concerns requires a delicate diplomatic balance, one that necessitates thoughtful negotiation and a shared commitment to global stability.

Are these conversations to truly discuss the risks and safety regarding AI or is there a larger agenda at play? It is no secret that both the U.S. and China are leveraging AI but to what extent may remain a mystery. Whether or not both nations come to a consensus on the application of AI, both must consider the consequences (good or bad) surrounding the use of AI. AI has proved to ease the burden of repetitive data processing tasks. However, the illuminated potential of AI extends beyond conventional applications, gaining notable attention in fields such as space, intelligence, and cyber. It is imperative to approach these technologies cautiously, as the unchecked deployment of AI may evolve into a influential and clandestine instrument, capable of exerting prompt and destructive effects on a global scale. The repercussions of such employment may remain undetectable until their manifestation reaches an irreversible magnitude, highlighting the critical necessity for strategic caution and preemptive measures in the utilization of AI across diverse sectors.

Larissa Beavers
Larissa Beavers
Dr. Larissa Beavers retired from the United States Air Force. She completed her Doctorate of Strategic Intelligence from American Public University System. She is currently a Professor in the Political Science department at the University of Alabama Huntsville and American Public University. Her areas of research and instruction focus on issues related to national security and intelligence.