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Australia will host 2021 Indo-Pacific Tech Summit

Australia will host a one-of-kind summit on emerging, critical and cyber technologies next year, a statement from the country’s Foreign Minister. It was noted that the Australian Government is supporting the establishment of the Sydney Dialogue, which will be held for the first time virtually in the second half of 2021.

While significant international conferences and dialogues exist for traditional areas of security and economics, there is currently a gap for political leaders, industry experts, academics and civil society representatives to meet and discuss the most pressing issues around cyber and critical technology. This annual, high-level dialogue will fill that gap, the Minister’s statement said.

The Sydney Dialogue will be hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra think tank, which will receive AU$1.5 million (US$1.1 million) from the government for the purpose.

The statement also highlighted the importance of India for Australia, which seeks to emerge as a tech leader in the Indo-Pacific. The statement noted that while the Dialogue will take a global perspective, it will have a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific, and next year’s inaugural meeting will have India as a core topic.

Both countries have signed a number of agreements in the past few months around emerging tech cooperation including an Australia-India Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyber Enabled Critical Technologies Cooperation. Australia has also committed to funding a Quad Tech Initiative, a Track II mechanism involving key think tanks in all four countries.

On 14 October 2020, ASPI and the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank that will represent India in the Quad Tech Initiative, released a report outlining 14 recommendations around greater Australia-India tech cooperation.

One report noted that by wisely focusing on civilian tech cooperation – albeit ones with significant strategic import and dual-use benefits – thorny questions around export control that would present themselves were the report to focus solely on military and defence tech cooperation are bypassed.

India has also sought to place itself as an emerging tech leader in the Indo-Pacific. In January this year, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs created a new New, Emerging, and Strategic Technologies Division within the ministry. The MEA and Carnegie India, a think tank affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also hosts an annual conference on technology and geopolitics; its latest edition took place virtually earlier this month.

The Indian External Affairs Minister noted that technology is political. Today, it is very much a core part of diplomacy. It is something which every foreign ministry is going to be focused on in many ways in a very central way.

The Indian Minister also remarked on recognition on the part of the Indian foreign ministry to understand the strategic implications of new technologies and norms and regimes around them.

The Australian Government is particularly committed to strengthening understanding of cyber and critical technology issues in the Indo-Pacific region, to ensure they promote and enable a safe, secure and prosperous region, the Australian Minister’s statement launching the Sydney Dialogue noted.

The Quad Tech Network will support universities and think tanks in Australia (the National Security College at the Australian National University), the United States (Center for a New American Security), Japan (National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies) and India (Observer Research Foundation), to develop research and recommendations on the shared challenges facing Australia and Indo-Pacific partners in the cyber and technology environment. These research papers will be published in late 2020 and early 2021.

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