Can diplomacy prevail in the China and US technology rivalry?

There are signs that there could be a détente in the competition between both countries regarding AI and IP

Much has been said about the perils of Artificial intelligence (AI) if it is not controlled or even limited in its development. If Orson Wells were alive, he would have crafted an “invasion of the planet by machines invented by AI.” Well, AI is neither an alien nor a wild animal that should be tamed or confined to the existing boundaries of regulations, particularly considering the increased competition between the US and China.

As AI-related technologies are widely applied to various fields and to an ample universe of activities, we must first explore an open Intellectual Property (IP) legal framework adapted to the challenges of artificial intelligence in order to stimulate technological creativity and promote the healthy development of AI applied to new industries and services. The “guiding motif” should be that legal frameworks must adapt to AI and not the other way around.

Regulators should explore a new IP protection model or mechanism for the AI era, calling for clarifying the scope and principles of IP protection to ensure that the legitimate rights and interests of creators are protected, but in no way limiting the process of self-generated AI creativity.

To the surprise of many who truly believe that China is a serial violator of IP rights, the planning of a sound IP strategy was part of the 12th China Intellectual Property Annual Conference held at the end of September in Jinan, capital of Shandong province. 

One conclusion to emerge from the conference was that compliance issues with AI data sources are a crucial part of keeping a healthy online environment and maintaining order in the copyright market. Another conclusion was that judgment regarding the creativity or originality of works, or AI-generated content must be determined by the rule of law. Not an easy task, but a must nonetheless.

According to experts present at the conference, China is looking forward to consulting  with specialists and scholars on digital issues from all over the world on how to create more flexible and adaptable legal policies to protect IP rights in order to seek a balance between innovation and regulation. To reach this goal, they agreed that IP protection in the AI era requires joint efforts from all governments, agencies, enterprises, academies, industrial associations, as well as the public.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng called on the world to stay true to multilateralism. More so in this field.

On the sidelines of the event, he met with U.S. Secretary of State Blinken as well as John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate change. He also told heads of think tanks and other groups in New York that China and the United States should strengthen communications.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has pursued a whole-of-government approach to target Chinese technology and service providers in furtherance of foreign policy and national security goals,  through the implementation of new export control initiatives, domestic restrictions on the use and procurement of Chinese telecommunications equipment and services, targeted economic and trade sanctions designations, heightened scrutiny on direct foreign investment, and outbound investment restrictions that seek to curtail investment in Chinese companies associated with advanced technologies. 

In particular, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Treasury, and the Federal Communications Commission have each implemented a range of new regulatory orders and directives aimed at combating and deterring China’s global technology influence in order to safeguard significant U.S. national security interests. 

On August 9, 2023, President Biden issued a new Executive Order targeting outbound U.S. investments in Chinese technology companies, including those associated with sensitive national security-related technologies such as semiconductors and microelectronics, quantum information technologies, and certain artificial intelligence systems, signaling that the US is preparing to seriously compete. 

There seems to be a contradiction, however, with certain global initiatives taken by the Biden foreign policy team. United States national security adviser Jake Sullivan met China’s top diplomat Wang Yi for two days of talks in Malta over the weekend of September 22, as the world’s two leading economies seek to stabilize their shaken relations and potentially level a path for leaders Joe Biden and Xi Jinping to meet in November.

The US said that the two governments had committed to pursuing “additional high-level engagement and consultations ‘in key areas’ in the coming months,” a signal of the expectation of continued diplomacy.

The IP conference could not have come at a better time. The Malta meeting followed a string of high-level visits in recent months from top US officials to Beijing, and comes ahead of an opportunity for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to visit the US in November, when President Biden will host world leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco.

The meeting between Wang and Sullivan comes as Beijing and Washington are taking steps to reestablish and strengthen communications to prevent their increasingly fraught and contentious relationship from veering into conflict, as the measures above-described show. We may be witnessing the first steps of a very long but constructive new engagement in foreign policy between the US and China under the new framework of a multipolar world that would certainly benefit the developing countries. Will diplomacy prevail?


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