China has been invited to attend Rishi Sunak’s flagship summit on artificial intelligence (AI) despite tensions with Beijing.
Relations with China have been strained by a series of security rows, including the arrest of a parliamentary researcher under the Official Secrets Act.
But China’s status as a technology superpower has led the Government to extend an invitation to the summit on AI safety at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire in November.
The summit is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to position the UK as a global leader on AI.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “We cannot keep the UK public safe from the risks of AI if we exclude one of the leading nations in AI tech.
“That’s why China has been invited to our AI Safety Summit in November.
“The UK’s approach to China is to protect our institutions and infrastructure, align with partners, and engage where it is in the UK’s national interest.”
Public confirmation of the arrest of the researcher – who insists he is completely innocent – came only weeks after Mr Cleverly became the first Foreign Secretary in five years to visit China at the end of August.
The Prime Minister’s representatives for the AI summit are engaging with China and other countries to determine the precise nature of their participation in the Bletchley Park gathering.
Downing Street declined to say whether the invitation was extended to President Xi Jinping, saying it would be up to the Chinese government “to set out whether they intend to attend or indeed who they may send”.
“It will be for each country to decide who they think is the appropriate representative,” Mr Sunak’s official spokesman told reporters.
Mr Sunak previously said the gathering would be open to “like-minded” countries.
Asked whether China was considered as such, given its inclusion, his spokesman said: “I think our position on China is well established and indeed is set out in the integrated review refresh.
“We recognise that China is an authoritarian country and represents a significant challenge.
“And it’s right only to engage when it’s in the interest of the British public and I think that’s what you’re seeing us do here.”