Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the global emergence of artificial intelligence with Bill Gates on Friday and expressed his openness to U.S. companies, including Microsoft, bringing their AI technology to China, according to two sources familiar with the talks.
During their meeting in Beijing, Xi also addressed Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) business expansion in China, as per one of the sources. Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, stepped down from the company’s board in 2020 to focus on philanthropic endeavors related to global health, education, and climate change.
The specific comments on AI made during the meeting between Xi and Gates were not disclosed in reports published by Chinese state media or in Gates’ Friday post reflecting on his trip to China.
When approached for comment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation directed Reuters to the aforementioned post. The State Council Information Office of China, responsible for handling media inquiries on behalf of the government, and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Xi has previously emphasized the importance for China to seize opportunities presented by AI to drive economic development. However, he has also raised concerns about its associated risks, with the country considering new legislation and regulations pertaining to generative AI.
The meeting between Xi and Gates occurs amidst a period of strained U.S.-China relations, with AI being a significant point of contention.
The United States has implemented export controls aimed at restricting China’s AI advancements, while China’s crackdown on consultancies and its ban on certain sales in China by U.S. chipmaker Micron (MU.O) have unsettled the foreign business community.
Microsoft supports OpenAI, whose chatbot ChatGPT garnered global attention in the AI sphere last year, including in China.
OpenAI and ChatGPT itself are not blocked by Chinese authorities, but OpenAI does not permit users from certain countries, including mainland China and Hong Kong, to access its services.
Microsoft has maintained a presence in China for over 30 years and operates a significant research center there. Its Bing search engine is the sole foreign search engine accessible within China’s Great Firewall, although search results on sensitive topics are subject to censorship.
The U.S. tech giant has encountered challenges in China as the country has tightened its control over the internet sector. In 2021, Microsoft discontinued LinkedIn China and replaced it with a stripped-down version focused solely on job-related activities.
In May, the company announced its decision to shut down that app as well, citing intense competition and macroeconomic challenges. However, it expressed its intention to maintain a presence in the country.