ChinAI #67: Fu Ying on AI + the International Order

Plus, an epic debut week from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, PhD candidate in International Relations, Researcher at GovAI/Future of Humanity Institute, and Research Fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

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Feature Translation: Fu Ying’s Preliminary Analysis of AI + International Relations

This week features an informal translation of a significant article by Fu Ying (傅莹) published in April 2019 in the Quarterly Journal of International Politics (国际政治科学), a Tsinghua University publication considered to be a top ten Chinese-language international relations journal.

Fu Ying, the author, is also a big deal: she’s been the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress of China since March 2013, and is best known for her terms as the ambassador to the United Kingdom and as Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. A 2019 Report by the Hoover Institution of Stanford University stated that in Sino-U.S. think tank-to-think-tank interactions, “Fu Ying emerges as the senior figure in a growing number of US-China interactions.” Most relevant for this translation, she’s the honorary dean of Tsinghua’s Institute of International Relations — a very influential body where Yan Xuetong is the dean —where she directs a center for International Strategy and Security, which helped with gathering info for this article.

Big ups to Brian Tse who found this article and also was the lead translator on this effort. He’s a Senior Advisor at the Partnership on AI, Policy Affiliate at GovAI/Future of Humanity Institute, and has advised leading AI labs including OpenAI, Google DeepMind, Tsinghua University AI Lab and Beijing Academy of AI. His research focuses on the prospect of international cooperation of AI safety and security.

*A friendly reminder that paying for a subscription helps compensate awesome ChinAI contributions like Brian’s from this week). We’re at 68 subscribers, and our (very arbitrary) goal is to get to 100 by the end of September.

What follows are Brian’s main takeaways (at the end, I’ll add on some brief, less put-together reflections):

In his report Understanding China's AI Strategy, Gregory Allen at the Center for New American Security discusses his trips to China in 2018 focusing on AI. One of the key findings is that in a keynote speech during China’s largest international relations conference, Fu Ying said that Chinese technologists and policymakers agree regarding the “threat of the new [AI] technology to mankind.” She further stated that “We believe that we should cooperate to preemptively prevent the threat of AI.” This view is consistent with Fu Ying’s analysis in this article, which uses the “Mars invasion” metaphor to describe how AI might be a threat to the security of the global commons:   

"If we look at the world as a zero-sum game and a pursuit of absolute security, there is no doubt that AI will, similar to the way atomic bombs and satellites were in the 1940s and 1950s, become the new focus of competition among big countries and a driving force of two or multiple parallel global orders. However, if we adopt the perspective of a Community of Shared Future for Mankind and view the problem through the concept of common security, it is not difficult to realize that the security and governance challenges brought about by AI technology are problems that all people face together. In this way, it should not be difficult for us to jointly explore the norms acceptable to all stakeholders in the spirit of equal consultation. If so, will AI become the "Mars invasion" challenge that unites China, the United States, Russia and the rest of the world?

“A Community of Shared Future for Mankind” is a major concept in current China’s foreign policy and diplomacy, and could be the broader conceptual framework of how Fu Ying, as a former Chinese diplomat, thinks about the international order and the impact of AI. This framework indicates a significant shift from Deng Xiaoping’s reform era dictum to “hide our capacities and bide our time” (韬光养晦) to a more proactive approach of calling upon China to be a responsible stakeholder in international affairs and global governance under Hu Jintao, and later, Xi Jinping. In a document published by the State Council laying out its thinking back in 2011, it lists a number of nontraditional, global security threats that can only be addressed by all countries working together, including the spread of weapons of mass destruction, financial crises, natural disasters and climate change. Eight years later, the former Chinese diplomat seems to be adding AI to the list of global security concerns that call for a new paradigm of international relations. 

The choice of “Mars invasion” as a metaphor can also be analyzed through a Chinese cultural lens. Three recent science fiction movies, two of them blockbusters and the last hyped to be one , all related to the themes of space and a collective global challenge. In the movie The Martian, Matt Damon gets back to the Earth safely thanks to the cooperation between NASA and the China National Space Administration, and the head of China's space program said that the movie shows that Americans want joint cooperation (also see how I began my talk at Asilomar Conference on Beneficial AI). Regarding The Wandering Earth movie, based on the novella of the same name by Liu Cixin, the South China Morning Post writes that it “emphasizes global collective actions and international cooperation” when the group of astronauts try to guide the Earth away from an expanding Sun, while attempting to prevent a collision with Jupiter. Lastly, The Shanghai Fortress depicts the human race's last stand in Shanghai fighting against aliens who try to seize a hidden energy source on earth in 2042.

Three weeks ago, Fu Ying gave a public talk on the topic of “AI Governance and International Cooperation” (link to the speech, Chinese only) at the World AI Conference in Shanghai (the same conference where Jack Ma and Elon Musk had a debate). Following these analyses and public speeches, Fu Ying is setting up a think tank, the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies at Tsinghua University (link to the opening ceremony, Chinese only), that has a major focus on AI, China-US relations and international security. The think tank is currently recruiting a full-time team of researchers (link to the job postings, Chinese only).

Jeff’s key takeaways:

  • This is something that is high enough in quality that I would include as a must-read in the Four to Forward section if I had come across it in English-language form. Fu Ying and her team are very plugged in on the English-language discourse in this space. Here is just a sampling of the references to the English-language texts in this article that I had not heard of (and it’s supposedly my job to study this space): The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History by McNeil and McNeil; Brooking’s report “How artificial intelligence is transforming the world;” "A 21st Century Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy for America’s National Security" issued by the U.S. National Science and Technology Council in 2016; "The Influence Machine: Automated Information Operations as a Strategic Defeat Mechanism" - a report issued under a Association of the U.S. Army research institute.

Here’s a quick list of interesting points (I’ve highlighted all of these with comments in the Google doc full translation):

  • Fu Ying emphasizes how the a gap in the ability of different countries to exploit AI may lead to a further deepening in the “digital gap.”

  • On AI + military strategy, she writes, “Currently, whether one is discussing "algorithm warfare" or "swarm" tactics, the heated debate in the strategic community still revolves around analyses of the operational impact of a single type of technology. If the military application of AI technology cannot be recognized as a whole, the envisaged countermeasures may become a costly and ineffective new "Maginot Line.”

  • She calls for more inclusive and multi-tiered systems of governance for AI given the emergence of more diverse actors and decentralization of political power associated with the tech

  • A good stat: the country with which China has initiated the largest number of international cooperation in the past five years is the United States; similarly, the country with which the U.S. has initiated the most international cooperation is also mainland China, and the amount of co-authored papers far exceeds that with other countries.

*It’s important to note that in the Hoover report we cited above re: Fu Ying’s emergence as the senior figure in Sino-U.S. think-tank/think-tank interactions also noted that in a case involving Fu Ying, “a US think tank was strongly advised to exclude a well-known China specialist as a condition for a meeting going forward.” In a similar vein, there has been some discussion about the Chinese space program’s key role in The Martian as an example of “pandering” to China’s interests, though to be fair the book it was based on includes China’s assistance as a plot point.

FULL TRANSLATION — Fu Ying: A Preliminary Analysis of the Impact of AI on International Relations

ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)

It’s an all-CSET week of links, in line with an epic debut week of three report publications from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

The first report, “Strengthening the U.S. AI Workforce,” by Remco Zwetsloot, Roxanne Heston, and Zachary Arnold, is a must-read on the AI talent landscape, the key problems facing the U.S. AI workforce, and possible solutions. Remco, who’s also a Research Affiliate with GovAI, happened to be visiting Oxford this week, and I got a chance to sit down with him to thoroughly dissect the report. God-willing, we’ll release that conversation/debate as the inaugural episode of the ChinAI podcast next week. Stay tuned!

CSET also launched, a biweekly newsletter curated by Rebecca Kagan on artificial intelligence, emerging technology and security policy, which will include links to Chinese-language document translations (very excited about this!) and interesting reports. This week’s debut issue featured a great translation by Ben Murphy of a Chinese government notice giving Chinese companies guidelines on how to build AI open innovation platforms. Via the newsletter recs, I also found this awesome Institute for Defense Analyses report which outlines a tentative framework for examining U.S. and Chinese expenditures on AI R&D, which tests the hypothesis: “information in Chinese government documents and reported in the Chinese media is too poorly defined—in terms of timing, sources, and purpose—to support credible comparisons between U.S. Federal and Chinese central government expenditures on non-defense AI R&D.”

The second CSET report, “Immigration Policy and the U.S. AI Sector,” by Zach, Roxanne, Remco, and Tina Huang, argues that the U.S. should build new immigration pathways for AI students, workers, and entrepreneurs. The report is backed by an impressive array of primary-source, original data collection from a great data team, including analysis of Crunchbase data, Department of Homeland Security and Department of State data, a July 2019 expert poll conducted by CSET, and analysis of Department of Labor PERM (Permanent Labor Certification) records.

The last report, “China’s Access to Foreign AI Technology: An Assessment” by Wm. C. Hannas and Huey-meei Chang, is a refreshingly incisive take on technology transfer, which clears up misconceptions, namely the belief that espionage is the main component of Chinese technology transfer. It also makes a useful distinction between “legal” tech transfer (joint Sino-U.S. research, company buyouts, talent recruitment) and “extralegal/informal” tech transfer, which are not as subject to outside scrutiny (document acquisition facilities, front organizations for PRC offices).

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99