June 20, 2024

Michelle Nie

Press release of CeSIA on the France-China Joint Statement on AI

On Monday, May 6, French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping released a joint statement on artificial intelligence and the governance of global issues. The declaration was signed following a state visit by President Xi to the Élysée Palace.

The two countries pledged to take effective measures, in the form of ten sub-agreements, to address potential and actual risks posed by AI and to strengthen the global governance of AI. The statement comes ahead of China’s participation in the Summit on Artificial Intelligence, which France will host in February 2025. China has also invited France to participate in its Global AI Governance Initiative (GAIGI), including a Global AI Conference which it is organizing in 2024.  

The statement recognizes first and foremost the importance of AI in development and innovation, arguing that it “must be put at the service of the common good.” It also confirms that there are potential and actual risks associated with the technology and reaffirms both nations’ commitment to “promoting safe, secure, reliable artificial intelligence systems.” The statement also explains that both nations are committed to international cooperation and governance, building on the United Nations and UNESCO frameworks. 

Why This Matters

The statement is important from a geopolitical perspective at a time when many Western countries, including the United States, are ramping up their competitive efforts against China. The US has imposed export controls aiming to restrict China’s access to advanced AI chips since October 2022 and has doubled down on its efforts in March 2024. The export controls have aimed in part to slow down the development of advanced AI systems. 

The joint statement declares the nations’ plans to “deepen their exchanges on the modalities of international governance of artificial intelligence,” which signals that France is open to cooperating with China. France’s public commitment to working together contrasts with some of its allies’ focus on competition with China, although China, the EU, US, and others all signed up to the November 2023 Bletchley Declaration calling for international cooperation on AI risks, commended in the joint statement. 

The statement places a lot of focus on the importance of AI in innovation and sustainable development. Certainly, both countries care a lot about these topics – France will invest €2.2 billion over the next five years on AI technology with the aim of driving economic growth and drawing much-desired AI talent to the country. And China has just released a new development plan for next-generation AI, reaffirming its ambitions to become the global AI leader by 2030. Conversely, AI safety and responsibility are further down their priority list. 

By signaling its willingness to coordinate positions with China, France is trying to strike a balance between the cooperation necessary to mitigate global risks, and the need for clear lines on what the country is willing to tolerate from China on its misuse of AI for social control purposes. This is a worthy effort that should nonetheless be carefully thought through, considering France’s principled stance against state censorship and surveillance. 

Lastly, there are questions about whether the United Nations is the appropriate international body for the governance of AI. China has openly supported the UN’s role as a “main channel in global AI governance.” However, experts debate whether existing international institutions can be successfully retrofitted to take on the mission of AI governance or whether new institutions or networks would be a better approach. Some also worry that involving all states in the creation of new institutions for AI may be impossible to do effectively and quickly given their wide range of views, while acting through a smaller group of countries may help with moving quickly to take decisive actions.

CeSIA’s Take

The joint statement is a strong starting point for future international cooperation on AI governance, which is imminently needed in an ecosystem that is rapidly developing and which transcends borders. However, the statement will have to translate into meaningful action. France and China should prove to the world that they are both deeply committed to international cooperation to safeguard humanity against the risks of AI and seize its benefits. One way China and France could show their commitment to AI safety is by launching a diplomatic dialogue on AI risks and committing to ambitious outcomes from future AI Safety Summits, such as the AI Action Summit in France in February 2025.

We call upon France to go further with this joint statement. As stated in our opinion piece for La Tribune, a collective discussion on a framework to regulate AI is urgently needed. France should make it a priority to quickly define and implement an international roadmap on AI safety.

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