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  • Writer's pictureAayushi Sharma

Understanding Australia-India digital and cyberspace cooperation

The two key Indo-Pacific democracies are building critical cyber cooperation frameworks.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in conversation with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

It has been long recognised that the key to a strong and secure Indo-Pacific lies in the robust partnership between the two major democracies of the region, India and Australia. One way to develop such a desired robust partnership is to diversify the avenues for collaboration. When the world was grappling with a grave global healthcare crisis in the midst of the pandemic, the digital communication technologies and the cyber space became a powerful resource for global connectivity and development. Even when the whole world was halted, the digital platform kept moving forward. In the post pandemic world now there is a greater recognition of the need to invest in the digital technological infrastructure and to make it more secure.

When we come to the question of diversification in the India-Australia strategic cooperation, the digital platform occupies a significant role. It was on 17th November 2021, that the Australian government announced the establishment of the Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy in India. The sole purpose of this establishment was to foster greater cooperation among the researchers on both sides and to extend the research into policy by also involving policy practitioners. Seen in the broader light, this is an important breakthrough in the relationship between the two countries and it reflects the significance assigned to the need for developing a cooperative mechanism for the digital age. This particular initiative is a part of the broader Action Plan for Critical Technologies developed by the Australian government’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources. Engaging with the other governments, research and industry groups as well as civil society partners forms a major aspect of this action plan and hence direct cooperation with state and non-state groups in India could prove to be an important resource in this regard.

What are the critical technologies?

To put it simply, the critical technologies form a part of the current and new emerging technological developments that may have an impact on the national interests. Many of these technologies have a digital foundation and could even form a risk to national security if used adversely. This is why there is a greater recognition, especially by Australia in recent years, that there needs to be a system for cooperation over these technologies in order to minimise the threat potential that they have.

The three major national interests that Australia has laid emphasis on, when it comes to the impact of these critical technologies are- national security, economic prosperity and social cohesion. This is why the cooperation between India and Australia over emerging and critical technologies is bound to add to the regional as well as bilateral security agenda.

One particular focus among these emerging technologies is cyberspace. Dynamic and powerful as it may be, it is also fragile at the same time. There have been numerous incidents of the compromise of cyberspace through the breach of personal and confidential data as well as the use of cyberspace to inflict cyberthreats and be a tool for crime. This points to the need for developing a rule based regime for managing the cyberspace technologies while making it secure and also keeping it open.

Cyberspace and cyber enabled technologies

India and Australia have, on multiple counts, officially reiterated their bilateral commitments towards building a safer cyberspace governance structure over the past few years. It was earlier this year that the Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and the then Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a joint statement on desired commitment over cooperation in cyberspace technology, security and development. The whole spectrum of this agenda includes joint efforts to invest in cyberspace innovation, research as well as capacity building in the sphere.

The idea is to first acknowledge the potential threats that cyberspace technologies can pose if put to wrong use by state as well as non-state actors. India and Australia together understand the need to build a rule based and secure regime in creating a stable and peaceful digital environment. Cooperation in this aspect would not only add to the stability in the region but would also contribute to international peace. This is because while India and Australia built consensus on bilateral cooperation they also called for increased international engagement by actors in countering cybersecurity threats.

Technological development is the basis of such cooperation and the establishment of an infrastructural support in the form of Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy is an important first step towards this goal. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of 2020 and the India-Australia Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyber-Enabled Technology Cooperation build on the diplomatic efforts towards sustaining this cooperation even further. The next session of this framework dialogue is going to be held in 2023 and this is expected to further build the road towards greater cooperation in digital technology.

Digital Economy

The one aspect of improving the security of the critical technology infrastructure is to also create a robust digital economy environment. This also points to the creation of a Joint Working Group (JWG) among the two countries to facilitate the creation of a framework arrangement in this regard. This would include increased cooperation in telecommunication services, the internet of things (IoT) devices and the overall cyber domain.

It may be noted that the approach taken by India and Australia over digital and cyberspace cooperation is expected to be an inclusive one as both sides reiterated their commitment to encouraging intersectional diversity in the cyberspace and emerging technology domain. This primarily points to the fact there would be a recognition of a variety of opinions and perspectives in the design, development and governance of cyberspace technologies. India and Australia also aim to reach out to other potential partners in the Indo-Pacific region to cooperate on digital development so as to build an inclusive infrastructure that would contribute to the stability of the region even further.

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