China calls for UN-led regulation of military application of AI

China has for the first time submitted a proposal to the UN to regulate military application of artificial intelligence (AI) as its competition with the US over the dual-use technology intensifies.

The document focuses on the “research, development, deployment and use of AI for military applications and proposes solutions on how to develop and use AI technology in the military field”, Li Song, Chinese Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs, said on Monday.

The document was submitted to the sixth review conference of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva on Monday.

China has pumped in billions in the sector over the years, and especially since the government unveiled the “New General AI Development Plan” in 2017, aimed at making China the leader in the field by 2030.

Experts say AI will be the foundation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mission to become a “world class” military capable of rivaling the US in the next few decades.

The inclusion of AI means the increasing “intelligentisation alongside mechanization and informatisation” of the PLA as per Chinese government documents.

The PLA has already begun to deploy AI-driven technologies.

The PLA Air Force has started to deploy AI as simulated opponents in pilots’ aerial combat training so pilots can sharpen their decision-making and combat skills against fast-calculating computers, the tabloid Global Times reported in June this year.

“In addition to training pilots efficiently, AIs are expected to be an integral part of China’s future warplanes that would assist pilots with their combat decisions,” the tabloid reported.

In the document submitted to the UN on Monday, China seems to be trying to create a level-playing field among countries with advanced AI technologies.

“In terms of strategic security, countries, especially major countries, need to develop and apply AI technology in the military field in a prudent and responsible manner, refrain from seeking absolute military advantage, and prevent the deepening of strategic miscalculation, undermining of strategic mutual trust, escalation of conflicts, and damaging global strategic balance and stability,” the document said.

“One particular concern is the long-term impacts and potential risks of military applications of AI technology in such aspects as strategic security, rules on governance, and ethics,” the position paper said.

“We need to enhance the efforts to regulate military applications of AI with a view to forestalling and managing potential risks,” it said.

The US Department of Defence highlighted the role of AI in a report on China’s armed forces released in November,

“The term “intelligentised” describes “the PRC’s concept of future warfare based on emerging and disruptive technologies, particularly AI”. This includes intelligent technologies, systems, and operational concepts such as “attrition warfare by intelligent swarms, cross-domain mobile warfare, AI-based space confrontation, and cognitive control operations,” that facilitate information processing and decision-making on the battlefield.

The report added that China is also updating its doctrine and warfighting plans to incorporate these capabilities.

Quoting the report, the Council on Foreign Relations said: “China’s Academy of Military Science (AMS) has a mandate to ensure “that the PLA’s warfighting theory and doctrine fully capitalise on disruptive technologies like AI and autonomous systems” Through an emphasis on emerging technologies, China seeks to become a “global innovation superpower”.

In the submitted document, China called for joint regulation of the sector and to establish an “universal international regime”.

It called for countries to “adhere to the principle of multilateralism, openness and inclusiveness. In order to track technology development trends and prevent potential security risks, countries need to conduct policy dialogue and exchanges, strengthen communication with international organisations…”

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