Home IssueArtificial Intelligence China’s Annual Parliamentary Meeting Shows National Commitment to Advancing AI

China’s Annual Parliamentary Meeting Shows National Commitment to Advancing AI

by Daniel Castro
Tiny flags on map of China

Artificial intelligence (AI) was a hot topic at the Two Sessions—the annual plenary sessions for the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), where China’s business and political leaders gather to discuss legislative priorities. Unlike the United States (where the U.S. Senate’s AI Insight Forums focused primarily on addressing various risks from AI) or the European Union (where policymakers spent nearly the last three years crafting a new law to regulate AI), the primary focus among stakeholders in China was how to ensure China does not fall behind in the development or adoption of this emerging technology.

The biggest news was Premier Li Qiang’s announcement of the “AI Plus” (AI+) initiative, an effort to integrate AI across all sectors of the economy. This project will be a major undertaking that will make AI adoption across the economy a core government priority for the year ahead. While the government has not yet detailed the components of the initiative, it is part of China’s broader goal for 2024 to “actively develop the digital industry, transform traditional industries with digital technologies, and fully integrate digital technology into the real economy.” In essence, not only is China fully embracing digital transformation, but it is making AI the centerpiece of this effort.

To successfully deploy AI, Chinese sectors will need access to computing resources and data. Despite U.S. restrictions on chip exports, Chinese companies reportedly have sufficient stock of Nvidia chips, so there is likely to be no immediate impact on their ability to deploy AI. In addition, Chinese companies like Huawei are quickly stepping up to provide domestic alternatives, that even if not as good as the top-of-the-line U.S. chips, provide a viable alternative. As a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated recently, a “small yard and high fence cannot stop China’s innovation-driven development.”

Moreover, the Chinese government plans “to create a nationally unified computing system” to ensure sufficient access to computing resources by continuing its “Eastern Data, Western Computing” project. This initiative aims to optimize the distribution of data centers in China by connecting businesses in the east of the country who have high data processing demands with data centers in the west, where land and energy is much cheaper. These investments in digital infrastructure will ensure Chinese businesses can access the computing resources they need for AI adoption.

The Chinese government also recognizes the importance of data as a key element for using AI. To that end, one of its goals for the year ahead is to “improve basic data systems and vigorously promote the development, openness, distribution, and utilization of data.” Indeed, China has already shown significant progress in this area. Last year, the government established the National Data Administration, a new agency responsible for creating data infrastructure and promoting data utilization across the economy. In December 2023, the National Data Administration launched a three-year campaign to “promote the high-level application of data, ensure the quality of data supply, improve the environment of data circulation.” In the coming year, China plans to pursue a “Data Multiply” (Data ×) initiative to “unleash the multiplier effect of data.” This initiative will include conducting a national data resources survey, reforming management of public data resources, and establishing new mechanisms for using enterprise data.

These announcements should be a wakeup call for policymakers in the West who focus almost entirely on the risks from AI rather than the opportunities. Merely creating additional regulation for AI will not help domestic industries adopt AI faster or more effectively, and in many cases, it will instead hold them back. Like their overseas counterparts, many Chinese lawmakers also have concerns about AI’s potential impact and want to see effective regulation, but unlike in the West, the government remains steadily focused on AI adopt.

China’s focus on AI should come as no surprise given Premier Li Qiang’s makes clear that the government’s top priority for 2024 should be increasing productivity through innovation. As he writes:

We should give full rein to the leading role of innovation, spur industrial innovation by making innovations in science and technology and press ahead with new industrialization, so as to raise total factor productivity, steadily foster new growth drivers and strengths, and promote a new leap forward in the productive forces.

Given this focus on innovation-driven productivity growth, China is right to go all in on AI. Countries that want to have globally competitive industries will need to adopt AI because they will face competition from rivals making use of this technology. Moreover, there will likely be significant first-mover advantages because early adopters of AI will be able to outperform laggards using less-efficient solutions.

China’s approach to AI appears to be “move fast and build things.” In contrast, the approach in the United States and the EU appears to be “move slow and regulate things.” Countries that want to succeed in AI should emulate China.

Image credit: Lara Jameson

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