Quad sets focus on emerging, critical technologies | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Quad sets focus on emerging, critical technologies

ByRezaul H Laskar and Deeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
Oct 27, 2022 08:34 AM IST

The groups have been engaged in delicate negotiations that have sought to strike a balance between national needs and overarching frameworks that will also be attractive to private industry and businesses.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad has been working on setting standards for emerging and critical technologies to foster greater business collaborations between the four member countries and to counter China’s dominance in tech, people familiar with the matter said.

A diplomat from a second Quad country, who too didn’t want to be identified, said the setting of technical standards will help build closer business and trade linkages between the four countries. (REUTERS)
A diplomat from a second Quad country, who too didn’t want to be identified, said the setting of technical standards will help build closer business and trade linkages between the four countries. (REUTERS)

A working group formed by the Quad – which brings together India, Australia, Japan and the US – and several sub-groups of experts have largely focused on standards and frameworks for key technologies and spheres such as 5G and 6G, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, cybersecurity, space and spatial awareness, and the handling of data and digitalisation, according to the people.

The groups have been engaged in delicate negotiations that have sought to strike a balance between national needs and overarching frameworks that will also be attractive to private industry and businesses. While the US and Australia, which have a history of working together on such issues, have taken the lead, Japan and India have been more cautious in their approach, the people said.

“The Quad needs definite outcomes that can be presented by the leaders of the four countries, and technology and standards comprise one of the most promising areas for collaboration,” said a diplomat from one of the Quad countries, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A diplomat from a second Quad country, who too didn’t want to be identified, said the setting of technical standards will help build closer business and trade linkages between the four countries that have a combined GDP of $34 trillion, while also offering alternatives to Chinese-dominated tech in the Indo-Pacific region.

According to an official familiar with the matter, the Quad countries have come to an agreement that there is a need to keep “Chinese companies at bay” in order to avert threats. However, a strategy for this is still in the works to “prevent, prepare and reclaim the supply chain”, the official said.

"There is also a cyber group that aims to reach holistic cybersecurity coordination among the four countries, including an approach for collective defence. The criminals have come together and increased the sophistication of their attacks. Similarly, the countries must come together to fight them", the official added.

For instance, in the field of 5G, the Quad members have worked on developing telecommunications networks to counter the pervasive presence of China’s Huawei through the use of open radio access (O-RAN) networks, the people said. In digitalisation, the work has focused on improved flow of data while ensuring privacy and on linking networks such as those used for digital payments, the people added.

India has notified a list of trusted companies to supply telecommunications hardware, excluding Chinese majors such as Huawei and HTE, to ensure the safety and security of networks. India has also developed its own indigenous 5G stack.

An Indian official, who too spoke on condition of anonymity, said several sub-groups are working on critical and emerging technologies such as AI, quantum computing and biotech. “These are still initial conversations to be had about how to approach any of these,” the official said.

The sub-groups include a mechanism for setting standards so that the Indian side can reach a mapping stage required for comprehensive decisions. The setting of tech standards will also counter the weaponisation of “interdependence” and ensure that there is no disruption of supply chains, the official said.

The Japanese side believes the work of the expert groups is crucial for building confidence among the Quad members, though there is a need to attract investments from private industry to bolster the development of crucial technologies. While some Quad members have opted to tackle hurdles as and when they emerge, the Japanese side has favoured an approach whereby possible impediments can be identified and tackled in advance, the people said.

The people said the issue of cross-border data flows has figured in preliminary discussions. India’s policy has focused on retaining data within its borders. The country has had three versions of a data protection bill since the Supreme Court adjudicated privacy as a fundamental right in 2017. The latest version of the bill was withdrawn during the monsoon session of Parliament and a new draft is in the works.

“There will be a listed of trusted countries,” minister of state for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said told HT. The G20, which will be presided over by India from December, represents a “good opportunity to discuss cross-border data flows and how they will be regulated”, he said.

The Quad unveiled the expert group for critical and emerging technologies following the first virtual summit of the grouping in March 2021, with the member states saying at the time that a free and open Indo-Pacific required that such technologies are governed and operated “according to shared interests and values”.

This was followed by the Quad statement of principles on technology design, development and use in September 2021, which called for tech ecosystems built on trust, integrity and resilience. The statement also supported openness and interoperability to enable collaboration, and outlined the expectation that technology suppliers and vendors would produce and maintain secure systems and be trustworthy, transparent and accountable in their practices.

Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) who closely tracks tech issues, said the efforts of the Quad members were motivated by China’s long lead in many crucial technologies.

“It is also a recognition of the fact that standard-setting for these critical technologies is no longer just a technical exercise but fundamentally, it is a demonstration of the geo-political and geo-economic heft of the four Quad members. China has been leveraging exactly this to not just set standards but consequently, the terms of trade,” he said.

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