International relations, Science and technology | Australia, South Asia

24 January 2022

Australia and India are heading in the right direction on technology collaboration, and this evolving relationship has important implications for the future of the Indo-Pacific, Arjun Gargeyas writes.

Collaboration on critical and emerging technologies has been high on the agenda for the Australian and Indian governments in recent months.

On 17 November 2021, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave a virtual inaugural address at the Bengaluru Technology Summit. Morrison’s speech was accompanied by an announcement expressing Australia’s commitment to establish a Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy in India.

The very next day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a keynote address at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sydney Dialogue, in which he emphasised importance of technology to the two countries’ comprehensive strategic partnership, which was established in 2020.

Both states are part of several multilateral frameworks where technology is a focus, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the ‘Quad’). Fostering an ‘open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem’ is at the forefront of the Quad’s agenda, and India and Australia’s efforts to cooperate on critical and emerging technologies is a welcome move in this pursuit.

The comparative advantages both states have to offer can help build a solid foundation for a future India-Australia technology alliance.

Over the past few decades, India’s capacity in the technology realm has grown leaps and bounds, with the country now contributing significantly to the global ecosystem. The state has improved its presence in critical technology supply chains, such as those for semiconductors and telecommunications.

More on this: National Security Podcast: Indo-Pacific Futures – Critical technology

With a robust semiconductor design ecosystem in the country, several indigenous, domestic semiconductor companies have emerged in recent years. Now, following the Indian government’s announcement of a $13.8 billion (760 billion Indian rupee) incentive scheme, India has reportedly attracted interest from top chip manufacturers like Intel. The state has also played a growing role in developing India’s capacity in other parts of the value chain, like assembly and testing, with some initial success.

On the telecommunications front, India is home to some of the biggest players in the industry, like Airtel and Reliance Jio. These companies are also part of the Open Radio Access Networks (O-RAN) alliance, which is working towards creating global standards for communication networks.

Australia, on the other hand, has formulated an Action Plan for Critical Technologies, which lists technology categories the government considers to have ‘significant impact on our national interest’.

Quantum technology is one such category, and the government is seeking to establish a Quantum Commercialisation Hub to support the domestic technology ecosystem.

Australia has also shown its commitment to artificial intelligence research and applications, with the government investing significantly in the sector.

Both states have their own areas of expertise in the technology domain that can serve as a solid foundation for technology transfer agreements. This can help both the countries in developing and improving capabilities in different critical and emerging technologies. By partnering on technology, the two countries could also broaden their economic and political relationship, which for many years was considered under-developed.

In order to achieve these goals, education remains integral to attaining proficiency in this space. Australia has invested in programs designed to deliver quality education related to critical technologies. University and research collaboration, visiting fellowships, and improving the overall access to technical education should form a major component of a technological alliance between the two countries, laying the foundation for greater cooperation in critical technology.

Facilitating private sector activity should also be a focus for policymakers. Prime Minister Morrison’s announcement of a new Australian consulate Bengaluru, India’s technology capital, is a step in the right direction, giving Australian officials and industry representatives more on-the-ground access to some of India’s most promising technology innovators and entrepreneurs.

Creating a technology alliance between the two states is an opportunity to access funding, foster research and grow private sector activity around critical technologies. With Australia and India increasingly viewing these technologies through a strategic lens in recent years, this evolving relationship could be one key step towards creating technologically open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

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