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Interview

EU enlists Japan to help establish AI safeguards

European Commission VP also voices concern over Chinese 'debt traps'

The European Union hopes to prevent the rise of killer robots, and it wants Japan to help. (Getty Images)

TOKYO -- The European Union is seeking Japan's cooperation on setting rules for artificial intelligence, potentially covering everything from privacy to preventing the creation of killer robots, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told Nikkei in an exclusive interview.

Japan and the EU have already signed an economic partnership agreement, but they have elected to continue a ministerial dialogue on industry and trade. Katainen attended the first of these talks recently with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko.

AI is one of the top priorities of the dialogue, Katainen said in the interview. While he did not specify exactly what rules he has in mind, he said every country faces common issues related to AI.

 European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen (Photo by Shinya Oshino)

The EU has set up a team for regulating the technology. Katainen said he wants to take the opinions of Japan's government and companies into account. 

Katainen, the EU's point man in economic negotiations with China, also touched on Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.

Generally, he said, the initiative is a forward-looking idea. But he also raised several concerns, such as the risk of countries falling into a debt trap and being forced to hand over ownership or operating rights to China. Frequently opaque bidding procedures are another worry.

New rules may not be necessary, Katainen said, but he stressed that "infrastructure project[s] must be transparent and economically, environmentally, socially sustainable."

Katainen said the EU is also pressing China on human rights. He acknowledged that "we [EU and China] have difference views on many human rights issues," saying that the bloc wants China to respond to concerns over its treatment of Uighur Muslims, for instance.

On the subject of trade, the EU and the U.S. agreed in July to start negotiations over tariffs on industrial products, except automobiles. While the U.S. wants to start the talks as soon as possible, Katainen said it is still too early to discuss a specific timeline.

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