China-Linked AI Giant Under Scrutiny | ET REALITY

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A US congressional committee has asked the Commerce Department to investigate whether a giant technology company controlled by the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates should be subject to trade restrictions because of its ties to China.

The company, G42, specializes in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, and is overseen by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the Emirates’ national security adviser and younger brother of the country’s ruler.

It has signed recent deals with prominent US technology companies, including Microsoft, Dell and OpenAI. Cerebras, a Silicon Valley chip company, is building a supercomputer for G42 to create and power artificial intelligence products.

But in a letter sent to the Commerce Department on Wednesday, the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said the company works extensively with China’s “military, intelligence services, and state entities,” according to a copy. obtained by The New York. Times. The letter was signed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.

Biden administration officials have privately expressed similar concerns about the company, which they fear could be a conduit through which advanced American technology is diverted to Chinese companies or the government, The New York Times reported in November.

Although the Emirates are a partner of the United States and one of the largest buyers of American weapons, they have increasingly sought military and economic cooperation with China. This has stoked concerns among US officials, who often visit the small Persian Gulf nation to discuss security issues. On Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the leader of the Emirates, during a regional tour focused on the war between Israel and Gaza, and the two “underscored the importance of strategic partnership”. ”said the State Department.

The congressional committee said it had reviewed documents showing that G42 CEO Peng Xiao “operates and is affiliated with an expansive network of companies that materially support” the Chinese military’s strategy. technological advancement as well as human rights abuses.

The committee asked the Commerce Department to consider imposing export controls on the G42 and 13 companies, most of them based in China, that it owns or is linked to.

The controls would prohibit American companies from selling products to Emirati and Chinese companies without a license issued by the department. The committee said it was giving the Commerce Department until Feb. 2 to act or explain to lawmakers why it was not doing so.

Five of the companies in China, the committee said, are affiliated with the Emirati firm DarkMatter, which has developed spyware and surveillance tools. The letter did not say exactly how the Chinese subsidiaries, also called DarkMatter, were linked to the Emirati firm.

The CIA has a classified profile of Mr. Xiao. He was born in China and attended college and graduate school in the United States before working at a Virginia technology company, MicroStrategy, which he left in 2014, according to public documents and reports. At some point, he obtained American citizenship, but renounced it in favor of Emirati citizenship. A G42 representative confirmed that his Chinese name is 肖鹏, which appears on the website from the Chinese Embassy in the Emirates.

A spokesman for the committee declined to reveal the documents it had reviewed.

In a statement, a Commerce Department spokesperson said, “We have received the letter and will respond through the appropriate channels.”

G42 representatives did not respond to emails seeking comment.

According to the Times investigation, US intelligence officials had raised concerns about the company’s relationship with China in a series of classified assessments. The report also said that senior Biden administration officials had pressured their Emirati counterparts to sever the company’s ties with China.

Those ties include partnerships with Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant subject to U.S. government sanctions, and BGI Genomics, which owns companies that the Commerce Department placed on restricted lists last March. Some U.S. officials say they are concerned that G42 is helping BGI try to collect genomic data from millions of Americans and others around the world.

G42 invested $100 million last year in ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, and has investments in other Chinese companies. His $10 billion investment fund, 42X, has an office in Shanghai whose new director is Jason Huformer executive at JD.com, a large Chinese e-commerce company.

The Biden administration has enacted trade policies to try to prevent China from acquiring advanced chips and other tools that would help it surpass the United States in developing emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

When The Times contacted G42 for the November article about the administration’s concerns, a senior executive, Talal Al Kaissi, said the company was looking to “remain in full compliance” with U.S. government regulations. He added that the company had been talking to American companies about replacing their technology infrastructure, which includes Chinese hardware.

After the article was published, Gallagher said in a briefing with reporters on Nov. 29 that “the trend line that the UAE is heading toward in its natural relationship with China is moving rapidly in the wrong direction.”

The G42 has investments from Mubadala, an Emirati sovereign wealth fund, and silver lakean American private equity firm.

The G42 has rejected multiple requests from the Times to interview Mr. Xiao. financial time published an interview with Mr. Xiao on December 7 in which he said the G42 was taking steps to cut ties with Chinese hardware suppliers like Huawei in favor of American companies.

But the G42 is closely intertwined with Chinese business figures and companies. The Wire China reported Last month, corporate records show that G42’s chief investment officer, Zhang Xiaoping, was also the chief operating officer of Yitu Technology, a Chinese company. The Biden administration put Yitu on a sanctions list in 2021 for developing surveillance technology used by Chinese officials in the repression of ethnic Uighur Muslims.

Mr. Zhang heads two G42 companies in China: G42 Shanghai Investment and Beijing Qingzi Future Network Technology.

Additionally, the report says that the Beijing firm’s general manager, Li Xiaoxu, is also the supervisor of Pegasus Technology China, which was founded in 2015 by Pegasus, an Emirati firm where Xiao was CEO before being appointed to the same. post. in G42.

The three Chinese companies are among 13 targeted by the congressional committee.

In 2019, an Emirati company led by Xiao was involved in the launch and operation of a social media application, ToTok, which US intelligence agencies evaluated as a spy tool used by the Emirati government to track the conversations of its users. The data collected from the app, according to a US intelligence assessment, was stored by an Emirati company called Pax AI, run by Xiao.

Chinese engineers helped create the app, and a forensic investigator who examined it in 2019 told The Times that it appeared to be a copy of a Chinese messaging app that offers free video calls, YeeCall, that was lightly customized for English-speaking audiences. and Arabic. .

The congressional letter named YeeCall as one of the companies the Commerce Department should examine.

And regarding the DarkMatter companies linked to the G42 and Mr. Peng, the letter said that the network collaborates with Song-Chun Zhu, a senior researcher at the Beijing Institute of General Artificial Intelligencea major state-supported scientific institution.

One Emirates-based company owned by G42 and mentioned in the Congressional letter is Presight AI, which sells surveillance technology to law enforcement companies around the world. In March 2023, a New York Times journalist examined its display at a police conference in Dubai and found signs of close ties to China.

The company promoted itself as a kind of Emirati version of the American data company Palantir. A video screen offered a glorified version of the company’s capabilities, in which big data analysis thwarted a drone attack on an office tower. A separate demonstration showed off the company’s physical surveillance capabilities: A software platform used cameras and facial recognition technology to track people at the conference.

The software, which was uploaded in Chinese before being translated into English, had several features of Chinese police software. Although a company representative insisted it was built in the Emirates, it had a number of features specifically designed for the Chinese market, such as internet cafe monitoring and specialized phone-tracking tags not often seen outside of China.

A Presight AI representative at the police conference said the surveillance software had already been sold to several countries in Africa and the Middle East, and was also being used by the Emirates government.

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