Microsoft’s president meets with the Chinese government to discuss A.I. co-operation

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Microsoft CEO Brad Smith participates in a meeting at The Westin Palace Hotel, on 20 May, 2022 in Madrid, Spain.

Cezaro De Luca | Europa Press | Getty Images

Microsoft President Brad Smith met with China’s Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao on Wednesday to discuss topics ranging from artificial intelligence to trade relations between Washington and Beijing, according to a Youdao-translated Chinese government announcement.

The meeting underscores China’s attempt to show it remains favorable to American businesses amid continued tensions with the U.S., as it looks to reinvigorate its economy.

Notably, Smith and Wang’s engagement comes after U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met last month — a gesture that commentators said showed China and the U.S. are trying to co-operate in areas with potential. It also signalled a desire to improve the environment for foreign businesses.

During the meeting, Wang said that China is committed to providing better services for foreign enterprises, according to a statement from the country’s commerce ministry. The readout said that the Ministry of Commerce hopes Microsoft will play a “constructive role” in co-operation on artificial intelligence between China and the U.S.

Microsoft is seen as one of the leading players in artificial intelligence, particularly after its reportedly multibillion dollar investment in ChatGPT developer OpenAI earlier this year.

China’s own technology giants — from Alibaba to Baidu and Tencent — have also been launching their own AI models and rival products.

Technology has been a point of contention between the U.S. and China over the past few years. Washington has sought to restrict China’s access to key technologies such as semiconductors, and U.S. export curbs recently targeted chips from Nvidia, which are used to train artificial intelligence models.

During the Biden and Xi meeting, the two leaders “affirmed the need to address the risks of advanced AI systems and improve AI safety through U.S.-China government talks,” according to a White House readout.

Smith and Wang’s meeting appears to have mirrored that.

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Meetings between U.S. technology firms and the Chinese government have become increasingly rare in recent years, as Washington-Beijing tensions ramped up. In addition, there are very few U.S. tech firms operating in China, with the likes of Google parent Alphabet and Meta’s services blocked in the world’s second-largest economy.

However, this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited China, which is the company’s third-largest market. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also made a trip to China, where the electric carmaker has one of its biggest factories. This has partly coincided with easier travel to China after the intense Covid-19 restrictions that were lifted in 2022, as well as Beijing’s desire to woo foreign businesses.

Smith said that Microsoft is willing to “actively participate in the digital transformation of China’s economy” and remains committed to promoting economic and trade cooperation between China and the U.S., according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment about the meeting when contacted by CNBC.

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