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Quad countries to form working group on ‘critical and emerging technology’

Leaders of the Quad nations — India, the United States, Australia and Japan — have decided to form a working group on “Critical and Emerging Technology”, which will facilitate coordination on technology standards, and conduct dialogue on critical technology supply chains. The announcement comes after the first virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue on Friday, wherein India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian PM Scott Morrison, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden discussed cooperation on COVID-19 vaccines and climate change, among other things.

Per an official release from the White House, the Quad leaders recognised the need to work together to ensure that critical and emerging technologies are operated according to shared interests. “Quad leaders recognize that a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific requires that critical and emerging technology is governed and operates according to shared interests and values.”

Excerpt from White House briefing:

In that spirit, we will convene a Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group, which will:

  • Develop a statement of principles on technology design, development, and use;

  • Facilitate coordination on technology standards development, including between our national technology standards bodies and working with a broad range of partners;

  • Encourage cooperation on telecommunications deployment, diversification of equipment suppliers, and future telecommunications, including through close cooperation with our private sectors and industry;

  • Facilitate cooperation to monitor trends and opportunities related to developments in critical and emerging technology, including biotechnology;

  • Convene dialogues on critical technology supply chains.

An anti-China alliance

The Quad grouping is often considered to be a force to put a check to China’s rising dominance in multiple spheres of the world economy, including technology (more specifically, telecommunications). Indeed, the Global Times, whose editorials are considered reflective of the views of China’s ruling class, blasted India’s participation in the Quad grouping after Friday’s summit, accusing India of betraying the “goodwill” China showed by supporting India’s hosting of the 2021 BRICS summit. The imminent worldwide adoption of 5G has given rise to national security concerns. Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, which are market leaders in 5G infrastructure, are feared to be close to the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

Two of the four Quad countries, the US and Australia, have either banned or imposed significant restrictions on the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment in their country. Australia was one of the first countries in the world that restricted “high-risk” tech from Huawei and ZTE in the country’s 5G infrastructure in August 2018. Around a year later, the US put Huawei, ZTE and several other Chinese companies on its trade blacklist, virtually prohibiting them doing business in the US.

India, too, has been stepping in a similar direction. Only this week, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) amended the Unified Access Service License to prevent telcos from obtaining equipment from untrustworthy vendors, likely aimed at Chinese companies. Earlier this year, India and Japan signed an MoU to work closely in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), focussing on 5G, telecom security and so on. Together, the Quad countries have also set up a “Quad Tech Network” with the purpose of supporting research and engagement on cybersecurity.

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