Australia and its Quad partners need to better cooperate on critical technologies and launch co-investment vehicles to counter the growing dominance of China, according to an Australian Strategic Policy Institute report.
The report aims to benchmark the Quad countries – Australia, the US, India and Japan – in terms of critical infrastructure capability, and build an evidence base to inform a future strategy.
It also makes a number of recommendations for the Quad nations, including to conduct detailed analysis to understand current and emerging gaps in critical and emerging technologies, and to partner with other like-minded nations to advance capabilities.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) also urged the Quad nations, including Australia, to establish a critical technologies fund to which participating countries would pledge funds which are then disbursed to address current and emerging critical technology gaps.
“Co-investment approaches between Quad government agencies and private investors should be considered in order to leverage government funding more effectively than simply through grants or incentives,” the report said.
The pilot project by ASPI focuses on the biotech and energy sectors, comparing the Quad nations with China.
It rates each country’s capability in hydrogen, solar power, genetic engineering and vaccines from 1 (some high level objectives but little evidence of progress) to 5 (strong evidence that stated objectives have translated into aligning capabilities).
These ratings are based on each country’s R&D and infrastructure development efforts using patent data and academic impact data, compared against the country’s tech-specific policy goals.
This data can help to inform Australia’s “technology diplomacy”, the ASPI report said.
“The race to develop critical and emerging technologies is becoming increasingly geopolitical and is an acknowledgement by states that technological capability translates to both economic and strategic advantage,” the report said.
“The stakes for states are high. If they lack ingenuous capability, there’s the prospect of having access to key technologies arbitrarily cut off, and, regardless of local capacity, the risk of having new technologies used maliciously against them.
“On the international stage, as we build collaborative relationships such as the Quad, there is a critical need for specialist ‘technology diplomacy’ support to foreign policy organisations to enable them to identify key issues as they engage with foreign technology industries.”
Australia ranked reasonably well in the chosen critical technologies compared to the other nations, with proven policy development and innovative capacity, but encountered issues when it came to connecting these concepts to capability.
Australia was ranked at 3 for hydrogen, solar power and biotechnologies, with specific policy objectives and high quality research, but a lack of alignment with policy objectives, and not enough investment in solar technologies.
When it came to vaccines and medical countermeasures, Australia ranked higher with a 4, behind just the US.
“There is a need for the government to work collaboratively with industry to capitalise on high quality Australian research, to ensure commercial viability and remain aligned with strategic objectives,” the report said.
The Quad has already established a Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group, and ASPI recommended that this group conduct analysis of its members’ existing capabilities and work to partner with other nations to fill the gaps.
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