Australia will host a one-of-kind summit on emerging, critical and cyber technologies next year, a December 23 statement from the country’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne noted. “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,” Payne’s statement said.
According to Payne’s statement, the Sydney Dialogue will be hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra think tank, which will receive 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.1 million) from the government for the purpose.
Interestingly, Payne’s statement also highlights the importance of India for her country as Australia seeks to emerge as a tech leader in the Indo-Pacific. “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,” it noted. 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 October 14, 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. Writing on the report at the time, I commented that “by wisely focusing on civilian tech cooperation – albeit ones with significant strategic import and dual-use benefits – they [the authors of the report] bypass thorny questions around export control that would present themselves were the report to focus solely on military and defense tech cooperation.”
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. Speaking at that conference on December 14, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar noted that “technology is clearly very political. It is today 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.” Jaishankar 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,” Payne’s statement launching the Sydney Dialogue noted.