Modi to unveil India’s innovation agenda
17 Nov 2021|

As the world rides the opportunities, and the disruption, of a rapidly rising wave of technological development, its most populous democracy has a vital role to play.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the Sydney Dialogue this week on the potential for his nation’s tech industry to produce answers for a range of critical global problems. He’ll be introduced by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who will also deliver a keynote speech at the dialogue launched by ASPI to support a more stable rollout of the next wave of transformational technologies.

Modi will discuss this technological revolution and how his government is harnessing India’s entrepreneurial and innovation skills.

The head of ASPI’s defence, strategy and national security program, Michael Shoebridge, said that over the past three years Modi had been central to a major strategic shift by India. Prior to 2018, Indian strategists and key thinkers cited its long history of non-alignment and stressed what India would not do.

‘They are now talking of the value to India of strategic partnerships and supporting its involvement as a prime participant in the Quad,’ Shoebridge said.

Modi was elected at a time of increasing pressure from China into the Indo Pacific and violent border disputes. He’d responded to that international environment because non-alignment was no longer in India’s interest, and he saw the value of partnerships. ‘Formal alliances remain too laden with encumbrances, but Modi’s India is a long way from seeing any strategic problem as best solved by non-alignment,’ said Shoebridge.

He also noted that while the Covid-19 pandemic had reduced opportunities for leaders to meet in person, virtual meetings had provided an unexpected advantage with more frequent opportunities to talk, and decisions coming faster.

That had fast-tracked the process, and accelerated leader-led cooperation, as we’ve seen with the Quad.

Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe will address the conference to develop his concept of the maritime democracies of Australia, India, Japan and the United States working together to ensure that the Pacific and Indian oceans became dynamically coupled as a zone of freedom and prosperity. This is now the central organising concept for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Abe will be introduced by Australia’s former prime minister John Howard.

Abe has declared that the relationship between Japan and India is blessed with the greatest potential for development of any of the world’s bilateral relationships. He says he has put enormous effort into developing that relationship as a strategic priority under a common vision that a strong India is in the interest of Japan, and a strong Japan is in the interest of India.

Fergus Hanson and Danielle Cave, who run ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, conceived the Sydney Dialogue in the knowledge that major advances in technology have always been disruptive. But when they occur against a backdrop of great-power competition, the development and deployment of these technologies become fraught.

‘Few have grasped the enormity of the disruption coming our way as more and more new technologies, from increasingly sophisticated surveillance to quantum and biotechnologies, are deployed across the world,’ Hanson said.

While governments grapple with foreseeing the full impacts and setting policy directions, there is a growing realisation that emerging and critical technologies will be extraordinarily important for societies, economies and national security.

ASPI launched the dialogue to support a more stable rollout of the next wave of transformational technologies. ‘It is a forum allowing for frank debate about the rapidly changing strategic landscape, and a space for governments, business and civil society to come together to focus on solutions, cooperation and policy options,’ said Hanson.

‘We saw big gaps in forums on technology, especially in the Indo-Pacific. There were industry events that showcased the latest technological advances and products, but they tended to eschew policy debates, and did not encompass government and civil society.’

Important government multilateral discussion and policymaking forums usually lagged well behind technological advances, Hanson noted, and because they were primarily for governments, key global players, including those making the technology, weren’t part of the discussion. There were excellent civil-society initiatives, but they often focused on individual topics that were only one piece of a larger puzzle.

‘Few of these initiatives focused on or resonated in the Indo-Pacific, the region that incubates much of the world’s technological innovation and has become a hotbed of strategic technological competition.’

These gaps drove us towards a dynamic where all the key actors have been speaking past one another, while rarely all being in the same room. Tech companies are developing and deploying products that are revolutionary and hugely disruptive. A decade later, governments are scrambling to retrospectively legislate to address issues they did not foresee, and civil society is critiquing from the sidelines.

Hanson said three major problems must be addressed to ensure the stable development of advanced technologies.

‘First, there’s the large lag between the deployment of new technologies and regulation governing them. With social media, this lag was about a decade. As we’ve seen, this doesn’t lead to good outcomes for individuals, or for societies.

‘Second, there’s a delay between states’ use of new technologies and their consideration of the ethical questions raised by its use. Examples of this can be seen in the global surveillance industry, which has allowed its products to support some of the most egregious human rights abuses of our times.

‘Third, a tense relationship between governments and technology companies is playing out around the world. The negative dynamic that has taken hold is hindering progress and genuine cooperation, leaving democracies at risk of being left behind.

‘By bringing world leaders, tech company CEOs and the world’s top civil society voices together for an annual dialogue, we hope the roll-out of the next wave of revolutionary technologies over the coming decade can be better managed. Modi, Abe and Morrison are likely to understand this well.

The Sydney Dialogue commences tomorrow and will include the keynote speeches and panel sessions on social media, space collaboration, global technology governance, and critical technologies. Most sessions will be accessible to the public and available for catch-up viewing at

‘Next year,’ said Hanson, ‘we hope to meet at the Sydney Opera House for an in-person summit, and annually thereafter.’