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AI Case Study

Chinese Government hopes to improve decision support to diplomats working on Bridge and Belt initiative through investment in AI tools

In a public attempt to reinforce the value of Chinese AI investment the Government has declared the roll-out of AI tools for its diplomatic teams working on Belt and Road initiatives to support the negotiation of infrastucture projects. The aim is to support geopolitical analysis and optimise Chinese performance in negotiations.


Public And Social Sector


Project Overview

According to the SCMP:
"Several prototypes of a diplomatic system using artificial intelligence are under development in China, according to researchers involved or familiar with the projects. One early-stage machine, built by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is already being used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The researchers said the AI “policymaker” was a strategic decision support system, with experts stressing that it will be humans who will make any final decision.

The system studies the strategy of international politics by drawing on a large amount of data, which can contain information varying from cocktail-party gossip to images taken by spy satellites.

When a policymaker needs to make a quick, accurate decision to achieve a specific goal in a complex, urgent situation, the system can provide a range of options with recommendations for the best move, sometimes in the blink of an eye. Dr Feng Shuai, senior fellow with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, whose research focuses on AI applications, said the technology of the AI policymaking system was already attracting attention despite being in its early stages.

Several research teams were developing these systems, Feng said. A conference discussing the impact of AI on diplomacy was hosted by the University of International Business and Economics last month [June 2018] in Beijing, in which researchers shared some recent progress.

The AI policymaker ... would be immune to passion, honour, fear or other subjective factors. 'It would not even consider the moral factors that conflict with strategic goals,' Feng added.

Other nations are believed to be conducting similar research into AI uses in policymaking fields, though details are not available publicly.

But AI does have its own problems, researchers say. It requires a large amount of data, some of which may not be immediately available in certain countries or regions. It requires a clear set of goals, which are sometimes absent at the start of diplomatic interaction. A system operator can also temper the results by altering some parameters."

"An associate researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said an early version of the AI system developed by the institute was in use in the foreign ministry. The system was operated by the department of external security affairs, she said. As well as dealing with security issues, the department makes policy recommendations on the operation of China’s overseas diplomatic missions, according to the ministry’s website.

The system, also known as geopolitical environment simulation and prediction platform, was used to vet “nearly all foreign investment projects” in recent years, she said.

The machine has access to numerous Chinese government databases. She said it was equipped with artificial intelligence technology, including deep learning and a neural network for risk assessment or prediction of events such as political upheaval or terrorist attacks, with “encouraging results”.

The machine is still unable to make a strategic decision by itself, but the next generation will have the support function to do so. The new system is “under construction”, she said, without giving a date on its completion.

“The machine will never replace human diplomats. It only provides assistance,” she added. ... To what extent AI may influence decision making depends on the senior politicians’ trust and acceptance of the new technology.

Reported Results

Liu Yu, an associate researcher at the Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing predicted 'If one side of the strategic game has artificial intelligence technology, and the other side does not, then this kind of strategic game is almost a one-way, transparent confrontation,' he said. “The actors lacking the assistance of AI will be at an absolute disadvantage in many aspects such as risk judgment, strategy selection, decision making and execution efficiency, and decision-making reliability.'

At this stage results are unproven and it is unclear how much the claimed deployment of AI for diplomacy is in itself a diplomatic PR act to reinforce China's self-image as the coming AI power of the 21st Century.




Strategic Planning


In June 2018, "in a conference on foreign affairs with Chinese diplomats, Chinese President Xi Jinping 'called for efforts to break new ground' in diplomacy, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
China’s ambition to become a world leader has significantly increased the burden and challenge to its diplomats. The “Belt and Road Initiative”, for instance, involves nearly 70 countries ... and ... an unprecedented development strategy of up to US$900 billion investment each year for infrastructure construction, some in areas with high political, economic or environmental risks."



"One challenge to the development of AI policymaker is data sharing among Chinese government agencies. The foreign ministry, for instance, had been unable to get some data sets it needed because of administrative barriers."

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