September 7, 2023

China invited to UK AI summit as 21 EU states left out, sources say

Is China's participation in the flagship AI summit necessary? The UK thinks so

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at London Tech Week. Credit: Simon Dawson

The guest list for the UK’s flagship AI summit is coming together — but not everyone is happy with it.

That’s because the UK government has invited China, according to three people familiar with the discussions, but only six of the 27 member states of the EU. 

Due to take place on November 1-2 at Bletchley Park in southern England, the event is an attempt by the UK to position itself as a player in the AI race between the more regulatory-minded EU — which is currently discussing its AI Act — and the US, which has taken a more laissez-faire approach.


London boasts the highest concentration of AI engineering professionals in Europe. 

Advocates of inviting China, one of the world’s leading countries in the AI race, to discuss the risks of the technology argue that no meaningful consensus on AI safeguards can be reached without Chinese participation.

Sources tell Sifted that the UK wanted to invite China because it “needed to be inclusive” but also that the nature of China’s participation in the summit is still to be determined as some allies were not on board with inviting the Asian giant.

But one diplomat from an EU country that has been invited told Sifted that the British decision was understandable. “It’s very important to keep a regional balance if you want to have an impact beyond Europe,” they say.

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have been invited to the summit alongside the US, Canada, South Africa, Brazil and India, among others, according to two diplomats. The European Commission is also expected to be represented.

Some EU countries left out in the cold 

Exclusion from the summit will make it tougher for those EU national governments to fight for the interests of their homegrown AI startups — especially if the event yields any consensus on safeguards.

EU-based companies from excluded countries would also have a tougher time accessing the details of what officials discussed behind closed doors and may have to lean heavily on their EU contacts. Leading tech executives and academics are also expected to attend.

Former senior diplomat Jonathan Black and tech expert Matt Clifford have been tasked with leading preparations for the summit, which will focus on “risks created or significantly exacerbated by the most powerful AI systems,” the government said earlier this week.

The UK wants the summit to yield a powerful final statement with commitments on AI safety, and discussions on its content are set to kick off on Monday, one diplomat tells Sifted.

The UK aims for the broadest consensus possible on measures to mitigate risks at AI frontier organisations, an assessment of the most important areas for international collaboration to support safe frontier AI, and a roadmap for longer-term action, the UK’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) says.

The UK government declined to comment on the guest list. A government spokesperson said “AI safety requires a collaborative approach, and we will work with international governments to ensure we can agree on safety measures which are needed to evaluate and monitor the most significant risks emerging from the newest developments in AI technologies.”


Cristina Gallardo

Cristina Gallardo is a senior reporter at Sifted currently based in London (soon to be Barcelona) covering tech sovereignty and Iberia.