Expert Speak Digital Frontiers
Published on Sep 24, 2021
With the Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group established, it is affirmed that the “Spirit of Quad” has widened its horizons to include more collaborations on critical technologies.
A Quad 2.0 Agenda for Critical and Emerging Technologies

The Quad, once thought to belong to the graveyard of international relations, is witnessing a Renaissance, with critical and emerging technologies as its keystone. Its resurgence was underscored by the first Quad Summit in March 2021, where the Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group was established by the member countries.<1>

While countering Chinese influence in technology spheres—ranging from rare earths to undersea cable—remains a prominent part of the Quad’s narrative, it will also now want to shed this “limited purpose” image, especially as it increasingly seeks to weave itself into the current web of architectures in the region, not least the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In doing so, the Quad must also find the balance between its hard security-oriented goals and its larger role as an enabler of digital economies, and shaper of technology flows and regimes in the Indo-Pacific, the latter of which holds greater resonance for India and the other countries in the region.

From the Ashes, a New Quad 

Where Quad 1.0 suffered from misaligned interests, changes in leadership, and divergent views on the Indo-Pacific,<2> Quad 2.0 is a product of opportune timing and an unprecedented convergence of interests. This convergence was punctuated by China’s increasingly aggressive actions along and beyond its maritime and land borders, as well as in cyberspace. Eventually, even the benefits of economic relations with China could not stem the deterioration of security relations. By 2018-19, emergent narratives in the capitals of all four Quad states centred on technology supremacy and self-reliance, as well as potential threats emanating from over-reliance on technology vendors subject to an increasingly belligerent Beijing.<3>

The Quad must also find the balance between its hard security-oriented goals and its larger role as an enabler of digital economies, and shaper of technology flows and regimes in the Indo-Pacific, the latter of which holds greater resonance for India and the other countries in the region.

The Quad’s alignment on critical and emerging tech issues is epitomised in the realm of 5G. Australia banned ‘high-risk vendors’, implicitly Huawei and ZTE, from its 5G rollout in August 2018, followed in December the same year by Japan, a series of Executive Orders from the White House in 2019, and lastly India’s soft ban in 2020.<4> While each Quad state’s decision on Chinese vendors followed their own trajectory and triggers—whether border clashes or foreign interference in domestic politics—the Quad has now reached a broad consensus on the need for trusted vendors, as well as global standards underpinned by democratic values. The next challenge for the Quad, however, is to outline what “trusted” means in this context, beyond measures targeting China.

Upward and Onward to the Next Summit

At present, the main mechanism for technology cooperation in the Quad is the Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group (or the Quad Working Group) established in March 2021. The Working Group announcement highlighted three broad areas for collaboration: 1) Telecommunications; 2) Principles on technology development, design, and deployment; and 3) Collaboration between national standards bodies. There also exists a Track 2 initiative, supported by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called the Quad Tech Network, which promotes research and public dialogue on technology issues, focusing on the Indo-Pacific.<5>

There are several areas ripe for collaboration within the group, including a) Trusted and resilient supply chains for critical minerals, semiconductors, telecommunications equipment and undersea cables; b) Inclusive Digital Transformation, including future skills, cybersecurity capacity, APIs; and c) Global governance of technologies, including in data governance, cyber norms, and 5G standards.<6> Collaboration on secure 5G technologies appears to be the most active of these areas, as evidenced by the establishment of a 5G subgroup under the Working Group, as well as the convening of the Quad Open RAN Forum in July 2021.<7> There is also talk that the Quad will announce steps toward collaboration on semiconductor supply chains.<8>

While Indo-US relations have come a long way since the Cold War lows, and India now has a strategic partnership with the US, Japan, and Australia, deeper security cooperation will be limited by the absence of a treaty-level arrangement, as well as friction over India’s close ties with Russia.

That said, a few issues are likely to loom large over India’s engagement with the September 2021 summit. The first is AUKUS—the Australia, UK, US partnership on technology and security—announced a mere week before the summit.<9> The new arrangement is significant not because of the diplomatic fallout with a key ally—i.e., France—but because it is a stark reminder to India of the invisible fence around the US and its treaty partners. While Indo-US relations have come a long way since the Cold War lows, and India now has a strategic partnership with the US, Japan, and Australia, deeper security cooperation will be limited by the absence of a treaty-level arrangement, as well as friction over India’s close ties with Russia.<10>

Another pressure point is India’s 5Gi standards, which—while part of India’s vision for connectivity for all—would isolate India’s 5G ecosystem from the standards dictating 5G markets elsewhere.<11> Consequently, this development would put a dampener on any ambitions for a homegrown Indian 5G vendor or service provider to become a globally-competitive alternative to the “big five”. 5Gi is also symptomatic of the larger struggle in New Delhi to strike a balance between aatmanirbharta (self-sufficiency) and India’s ambitions to be a consequential actor in the shaping of global technology norms and regimes.

Finally, the Quad must keep up with the evolution of the Indo-Pacific construct. The “Indo-Pacific” has matured beyond its maritime security roots: it captures the varied interpretations of countries within and outside its geographic bounds and now encapsulates issues including sustainable development, trade, infrastructure, and inclusive digital transformation. Key to this shift is the transformation of the Indo-Pacific as a term synonymous with the Quad, to a larger ecosystem that the Quad is simply a part of. This sentiment was made clear in the March 2021 Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement on “The Spirit of the Quad”:<12>

The Quad must keep up with the evolution of the Indo-Pacific construct; today it encapsulates issues beyond the maritime: sustainable development, trade, and inclusive digital transformation.

Together, we commit to promoting a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond...We reaffirm our strong support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality as well as the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Full of potential, the Quad looks forward to the future; it seeks to uphold peace and prosperity and strengthen democratic resilience, based on universal values.

For the Quad to eventually outgrow its roots in conflict, it will need to promote an emerging technology agenda that will outlast any elected government as well as short-term trends, focused not just on exclusion but on raising the overall security, resilience and vibrancy of technology supply chains and ecosystems.

This piece is part of ORF’s Special Report No. 161, The Rise and Rise of the ‘Quad’: Setting an Agenda for India | ORF (orfonline.org)


Endnotes

The term refers to the major 5G vendors: Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and NEC.

<1>Fact Sheet: Quad Summit”, White House, March 12, 2021.

<2> Girish Luthra, “The Indo-Pacific Quest for the Quad’s Spirit,” ORF Issue Brief No. 473, July 2021, Observer Research Foundation. Jeff Smith, “The Quad 2.0: A Foundation for a Free and Open Indo–Pacific”, Heritage Foundation, July 6, 2020,

<3>An India Economic Strategy to 2035”, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2018), “India's Trillion Dollar Digital Opportunity”, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, December 15, 2018, “第5世代移動通信システム(5G)の導入のための 特定基地局の開設計画の認定(概要)”, April 31, 2019. pp. 15, “Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain”, E.O. 13873, Federal Register, May 15, 2019,

<4>Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018”, Yoshiyasu Shida and Yoshifumi Takemoto, “Japan government to halt buying Huawei, ZTE equipment: sources”, Reuters, December 7, 2018, Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain (Executive Order 13873), “Bid to keep Huawei out of 5G trials”, Telegraph, June 6, 2020.

<5>Quad Tech Network”, National Security College, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific.

<6> Trisha Ray, Sangeet Jain, Arjun Jayakumar and Anurag Reddy, “The Digital Indo-Pacific: Regional Connectivity and Resilience”, Observer Research Foundation (February 2021) Lisa Curtis and Martijn Rasser, “A Techno-Diplomacy Strategy for Telecommunications in the Indo-Pacific”, Center for New American Security (September 2021) Note: Both papers were published as part of the Quad Tech Network.

<7>The Quad Open RAN Forum”, Open RAN Policy Coalition.

<8>Quad tightens rare-earth cooperation to counter China”, Nikkei Asia, March 11, 2021. “Quad leaders to call for securing chip supply chain”, Nikkei Asia, September 18, 2021.

<9>Remarks by President Biden, Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, and Prime Minister Johnson of the United Kingdom Announcing the Creation of AUKUS”, White House, September 15, 2021.

<10> Trisha Ray, “Beyond an India-EU-U.S. Shared Vision on Emerging Technologies”, ORF America, February 19, 2021.

<11>TSDSI’s 5G Radio Interface Technology “5Gi” approved by SG5 of ITU-R as part of upcoming ITU-R Recommendation M. ”, Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India, December 2, 2020.

<12> Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: “The Spirit of the Quad”, Ministry of External Affairs, March 12, 2021.

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