Last week two major engagements gave fillip to India's emerging strategic cyber diplomacy – (1) the first ministerial meeting of India-European Union Trade and Technology Council (TTC) in Brussels, Belgium on 16 May 2023 jointly co-chaired by three union ministers from the Indian side and (2) the third in-person Quad Leaders’ Summit in Hiroshima, Japan on 20 May where Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated along with his counterparts in Japan and Australia and the US President.
Both these engagements had a major component of dealing with global technology management and emerging issues and devising a roadmap for furthering strategic technology cooperation. They also built on the groundwork that was already undertaken in some identified areas by respective working groups.
Technology and its proliferated usage across almost every sector have remained skewed and the global digital divide remain to be addressed more promptly. Its emergence as a disruptor and force multiplier for enhancing espionage, cyber attacks on critical infrastructures, and pursuing hegemonic interests has been a growing concern for many nations.
Further, technology has also become a major strategic differentiator in global geopolitics and the most recent US vs China spat and resulting actions is a glaring example of this. Clearly, the absence of geography, the asymmetric nature, and the lesser understood facets of technology deployment have resulted in it gaining grounds in diplomatic engagements.
India’s Progress in Geopolitical Cyber Diplomacy
India's diplomatic premise around technology in the last few years has, thus, been shaped on two yardsticks- (1) wider proliferation of technology based on India's successful experience and (2) strategic cooperation in key areas of technology management that includes cyber security and newer vistas of technology development like Artificial Intelligence (AI), High-Performance Computing (HPC), quantum computing, 5G/6G, biotech, space, and semiconductors.
Besides the various bilateral engagements and the few multilateral engagements in the above two broad areas, India has actively participated in the UN-led Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security as well as the more recent Open-ended Working Group on the security of and in the use of information and communications technologies whereby it has emphasised the need for a safe and trusted global digital ecosystem.
As part of the G20 presidency that India holds now, it has offered the India Stack to the Global South to benefit from India’s successful implementation of large projects in a secure and sustainable manner. The India Stack is the most optimal Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) which made India the first country to develop all three foundational DPIs- digital identity (Aadhar), real-time fast payment (UPI), and a platform to safely share personal data without compromising privacy (Account Aggregator built on the Data Empowerment Protection Architecture or DEPA).
Many countries find this as a great system that has leveraged technology, markets, and governance to create large digital ecosystems that facilitate inclusive development and competitive digital markets. India’s reputation as a country of great technology talents primarily based on the human resources that have significantly played in the building and sustaining the software and services industry both onshore and offshore has given a shot in the arm in terms of acceptance of a partner by many countries who want to emulate the India story in many cases.
India’s Global Tech Co-Operation Strategies Vis-à-Vis Quad
On the strategic side, the increasing importance and requirements of semiconductor chips and network hardware like switches, servers, and routers make it imperative to secure their supply chains and deployments. India’s focus on electronics manufacturing for the last few years and the push towards setting up semiconductor chips have been progressing at a good pace.
While the critical mass is attained in both these areas in terms of meeting the nation’s growing needs, it is crucial to building partnerships around the whole supply chain of these sectors that include lithography technology, special inks, and hardened manufacturing techniques. Besides the need for cooperation in high-performance computing, quantum technology, artificial intelligence, cloud systems, and 5G/6G technologies, the internet of things and spatial issues is very pertinent so that the domestic technological prowess is also harnessed to the evolving global requirements and standards.
Indian engineers are at the forefront of such technology across the globe with the industry leaders and having the domestic efforts also intertwined with such efforts globally elevates the positioning when it comes to building the nation’s recognition in those strategic restructuring.
The TTC and QUAD offered the best possible avenue for such aspirations to be taken forward besides the India-US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (CET) to forge closer linkages between the government, academia, and industry of the two countries in areas of strategic technology. In the run-up to the TTC meeting as well as the QUAD summit, working groups worked behind specific areas and laid the groundwork for the engagements.
Thus, the three working groups under the TTC mechanism focussed on (1) Strategic Technologies, Digital Governance, and Digital Connectivity, (2) Green and Clean Energy Technologies, and (3) Trade, Investment, and Resilient Value Chains since February this year when they were notified. The Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group announced in the first summit in March 2021 was premised on five lines of effort - (1) develop a statement of principles on technology design, development, and use (2) facilitate coordination on technology standards development, (3) encourage cooperation on telecommunications deployment, diversification of equipment suppliers, and future telecommunications, (4) facilitate cooperation to monitor trends and opportunities related to developments in critical and emerging technology, including biotechnology and (5) convene dialogues on critical technology supply chains.
The outcomes have been optimal and given direction on regular engagements. The first ministerial TTC meeting laid the roadmap for cooperation under all three working groups and provide direction to achieve desired outcomes before the next ministerial meeting in 2024. India and the EU will cooperate on quantum and HPC research and development projects to help address challenges such as climate change and natural disasters and improve the healthcare ecosystem and also seek to cooperate on trustworthy AI and coordinate their policies with regards to the strategic semiconductors sector through a dedicated Memorandum of Understanding to be signed by September this year. Both partners will engage in 5G, telecoms, and Internet of Things standardisation.
Agreement towards bridging the digital skills gap and promoting the exchange of digital talent has been reached. Enhancing the interoperability of their respective DPI has been agreed which jointly can then be taken to the global south. In addition, India and the EU will coordinate within the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) which India now leads as the council chair.
(Subimal Bhattacharjee is a commentator on cyber and security issues around Northeast India. He can be reached @subimal on Twitter. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)