Exclusive-China took part in leaders' AI meeting even though UK did not acknowledge

FILE PHOTO: AI Safety Summit 2023

By Brenda Goh and Paul Sandle

SHANGHAI/LONDON (Reuters) - China said it attended a top-level ministerial meeting at the UK AI Safety Summit on Thursday, despite not being listed by Britain among the "like-minded" participants and not featuring in official handshakes or the family photograph.

China's absence sparked questions because it participated in the first day of the two-day summit on the safety of "frontier" artificial intelligence, and Britain declined to say why Beijing was not among those joining the second day's senior meeting.

China's delegate to the meeting, Vice Minister of Science and Technology Wu Zhaohui, was present on Thursday, his ministry said on Friday. China's participation in the second-day ministerial meeting has not been previously reported.

"Please contact the British sponsoring government department for the specific arrangements and outcomes of the meeting," the Chinese ministry said when asked why Wu had not featured in the public events on Thursday.

In one possible reason for not advertising the Chinese presence, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday that "there are some sessions where we have like-minded countries working together, so it might not be appropriate for China to join".

Among other reasons speculated was that Britain wanted to present a united front and China did not back Thursday's joint agreement.

The Chinese technology ministry declined to say why China did not agree to the proposal, which was about AI model testing.

Diplomatic protocol may have played a part too because Wu was junior to other participants on the second day of the conference in Bletchley Park, southern England.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chaired Thursday's meeting that comprised "a small group of like-minded senior representatives from governments around the world", Britain said, including the U.S. vice president and the EC president.

Some British lawmakers had criticised China's participation in the inaugural AI summit. They questioned whether Beijing, which the West sees as a technological rival and military threat, should be included in meetings about sensitive technology.

Wu attended the first day of the summit on Wednesday when China, the United States, European Union and 26 other countries agreed to share a common approach to identifying AI risks and ways to mitigate them, called the Bletchley Declaration.

He did not feature in any public events on the second day, leading one journalist to ask Sunak at a news conference why China had been excluded from the final day.

Sunak did not address the question directly, but said he achieved the outcome he wanted, with China engaged in the process.

A British government spokesperson declined to comment on the participation of individual countries at the summit.

Sunak told reporters: "Some said we shouldn't even invite China, others said we would never get an agreement with them. Both were wrong."

(Reporting by Paul Sandle in London and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, additional reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)