White House tackles concerns over Chinese interest in Middle East AI as firms try to play ‘both sides’

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The White House has privately addressed concerns over an increasingly close relationship between Beijing and private industry in the Middle East that could see Chinese influence over powerful new artificial intelligence (AI) models. 

“It’s very reminiscent of the Huawei issue where you have these technologies with 5G,” Dr. Georgianna Shea, the chief technologist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation, told Fox News Digital. 

“Everyone’s using [5G], so that it becomes a backdoor into a lot of different systems within the United States,” Shea said. “AI offers that same opportunity when [China] partners with our allies: They can both get in on the development side of it and, possibly, skew some of those biases or directly go through and pull out the intellectual property from what’s being put into the model.” 

The Biden administration has made clear in private discussions with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that the oil-rich nation should pay close attention to ties between Beijing and the Emirati company G42, which launched its Jais AI model – reportedly the most advanced Arab-language AI model. 


The Emirati Minister of Artificial Intelligence, Omar Sultan Al Olama argued at a summit last month that the Middle East has to learn from past mistakes when it comes to technology, citing the ban on the printing press, which he labeled “over-regulation.” 

Omar Sultan Al Olama speaks during the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park on Nov. 1, 2023, in Bletchley, England. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The White House in June held talks with the UAE’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, over G42’s ties to China during the sheikh’s visit to the U.S., as he is the controlling interests in the firm, according to the New York Times. 

China and the U.S. have spent most of the year jockeying for leadership over AI development, recognizing the value the technology already has and its incredible potential to transform industries and how people in different countries interact with the world around them.


G42 posted staggering growth over the past year thanks to partnerships with several companies – chief among them a partnership with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT and its parent company Microsoft. 

The Gulf states have increased their spending in China, stepping up investment from $100 million in 2022 to a staggering $2.3 billion this year so far, even as the U.S. remains the chief investment interest of the region, according to The Telegraph. Relations between the UAE and the U.S. hit a stumbling block when U.S. intelligence determined China was secretly building a suspected military facility at an Abu Dhabi port, which the UAE ended after pressure from Washington. 

Turkey UAE meeting

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Ankara, Turkey, on Aug. 18, 2021. (Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson dismissed U.S. concerns, calling it another effort to “sabotage cooperation between Chinese companies and other countries,” which he accused the U.S. of doing “on multiple occasions” through “economic coercion.” 

Peng Xiao, the chief executive of G42, admitted the U.S. has already started applying some pressure and making clear that the company “cannot do much more work with Chinese partners,” citing concerns over U.S. data handled by the company. 


Despite the growing number of U.S.-created AI options, Shea pointed to TikTok, which has U.S. competitors but still has one of the largest active user base of any social media platform operating in the country: Tiktok ranks as the most daily minutes, while Meta has the largest number of monthly active users, according to Statista. 

An analysis of social media use and engagement found that TikTok provided greater engagement per post than those on social media platforms X and both Facebook and Instagram, according to Rival IQ’s Social Media Industry Benchmark report of 2022 social media performance. 

Doha Forum China

Officials from around the world attend a panel discussion on “Prospects for Peace in Ukraine” during the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on Dec. 11, 2023. (Salim Matramkot/AFP via Getty Images)

“TikTok is one of those types of technology that is… very prevalent,” Shea said, arguing that “if people have the option to use an advanced tool, they will.” 

“When you use AI, you put in your information, you put in your questions, you put in your search capabilities, and all of that then gets consumed into a data model,” Shea explained. “Everything you had over into that query area is pretty much handed over.”

Shea raised concerns that the U.S. is “struggling with the application of AI” since “you can use it for a lot of different things.” 


“Organizations, government, they don’t understand quite how to develop those policies, they’re not quite sure of the security implementation implications, so they haven’t laid out the best rollout for how we will use AI in a secure setting,” Shea argued. 

“If there is advanced technology and capabilities out there, then anyone who wants to be in that information-dominant space is going to vie for that ownership and control,” she warned. 

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