Modi declares India open for business in tech arms race

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has positioned his country as an ethical and stable supplier of technology, urging Australia to continue deepening trade and investment ties despite his government’s poor record on digital and human rights.

At the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Sydney Dialogue event on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the Indian leader, who declared how technology is developed and shared is “the call of our times”.

The Indian Prime Minister spruiked India as a more responsible and value-aligned partner and supplier for technologies from semiconductors to quantum computing, as the country and its Quad group allies Australia, Japan, and the US seek to shift supply chains out of China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the ASPI Sydney Dialogue event

“We are at a historic moment of choice,” Mr Modi said in a pre-recorded address.

“Either all the wonderful powers of technology of our age will be instruments of cooperation or conflict, coercion or choice, domination or development, oppression or opportunity.

“India, Australia and our partners in the Indo Pacific region and beyond, hear the call of our times. And we are prepared to rise to fulfil our responsibilities.”

Mr Modi said his country had developed strong capabilities in a range of emerging technologies including cybersecurity, cloud computing and quantum, and would now turn its focus further upstream.

“We have the benefit of our skills and global trust. And now we are focusing on hardware. We are preparing a package of incentives to become a key manufacturer of semiconductors,” Mr Modi said.

While Mr Modi seeks to position his country as an ethical and reliable supplier of technology and services, his government faces harsh criticism about its rights record, including abuses of technology.

Ahead of the ASPI event, Human Rights Watch warned about the Modi government’s record on technology, which includes allegations of censorship, surveillance of journalists, the most internet shutdowns in the world, and peaceful protest suppression.

The Modi government’s record on fundamental human rights have also been heavily criticised by international rights groups. Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating last week made the point that India’s rights record is rarely mentioned by allies while accusing Mr Modi of “repudiated the autonomy” of the largely Muslim region Kashmir.

The Indian leader has defended his government’s human rights record, saying there had been a “selective interpretation” of rights issues and the criticism is politically motivated.

The controversy has not stopped Australia forging deeper ties with India around technology and resources.

Last year, the Morrison government updated Australia’s strategic partnership with India, introducing a technology focus, and this week announced a new Consulate-General in India’s technology capital Bangalore. A new Australian Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy will also based in India.

Mr Morrison has also announced plans to develop and protect certain “critical technologies” domestically and with global partners with “shared values” this week. The announcement was widely regarded as a technology arms race with China, which controls large parts of global critical mineral and technology supply chains.

Earlier this year Quad nations announced a partnership to map the supply chains of critical technologies and materials, including semiconductors.

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