India-Japan cooperation has now expanded to include emerging technologies. Last month, both sides signed an agreement to promote “cooperation in capacity building, research and development” in Industry 4.0 technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G or Fifth Generation wireless communications technology. Furthermore, there is convergence on the need for “robust and resilient digital and cyber systems” which resulted in bilateral cyber security agreement.
Industry 4.0 technologies are resonating across domains and finding reference in political-technological-economic-strategic dialogues and national leaders have vehemently argued that Industry 4.0 technologies should be marshaled for global development and human wellbeing. These technologies offer numerous opportunities to deliver on the above requirements and are being widely put to use in governance, agriculture, medicine, climate change, environment, green energy development, etc. However, Industry 4.0 technologies have attracted contestation in terms of geopolitics, geostrategic challenges, technology denials and military competition.
In particular, the Chinese 5G technology has attracted international concerns. Huawei and ZTE are leaders which make necessary equipment for the technology and these are closely linked to the Chinese government. In 2018, the US enacted the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act which cautioned that Chinese 5G was a national security threat and should be debarred from use in the United States. Furthermore, in June 2020, the US Justice Department recommended that Pacific Light Cable Network, a high-capacity undersea data cable system (120 terabytes of data per second) proposed by Google and Facebook to connect US, Taiwan and the Philippines, should not make landfall at Hong Kong, citing potential national security concerns following China's moves to exert greater control in the territory.
China has taken the lead in 5G while the US-led wireless industry is still struggling. Several top US companies and global wireless network operators have now announced the ‘Next G Alliance’ (NGA) which will focus on R&D, manufacturing, standardization and market readiness of both 5G and 6G. The NGA’s goal is to “advance North American mobile technology leadership in 6G and beyond over the next decade, while building on the long-term evolution of 5G.” The NGA could also boast of being entirely free of Chinese influence.
The US is pressurizing many countries not to acquire 5G equipment from Chinese companies. US’s Clean Network plan is designed to keep Chinese telecom and technology firms out of the US. There are as many as 49 countries, representing two-thirds of global economic output, into its “Clean Network” initiative aimed at limiting Chinese companies from access to sensitive.
But it was Australia who first put a ban on Huawei and ZTE from its 5G network, citing security concerns. Early this year, the UK, ostensibly under pressure from the US, announced cancelation of 5G contracts to Huawei on grounds of national security and economy. However, Japan appears reluctant and according to Japanese media, “Tokyo will take its own measures in the event of any security concern in 5G and Japan will not join any framework designed to exclude a specific country” It is not known if the issue came up during the meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in October 2020.
India hardened its stand and chose to red flag both Chinese companies in 5G auction citing security concerns as also due to the ongoing border standoff in the Himalayas. The US was most appreciative of India after the government banned 118 mobile apps with links to Chinese companies and an official of the US State Department was quoted saying “India has already banned 100 plus Chinese apps. We call on all freedom-loving nations and companies to join The Clean Network,”
In 2019, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has proposed India-Japan-US collaboration on 5G technology. His speech noted that “India’s IT sector, it’s more than just a digital miracle - it’s a source of national pride. Can we work together as partners, with partners such as Japan, to keep India’s networks and 5G networks of the future safe and reliable? I’m confident that we can,”
The 5G issue also gains salience in the context of the resilient supply chains initiative (RSCI) by India, Australia and Japan who have chosen to announce the “pressing need for regional cooperation on supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific” and “take a lead in delivering a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment and in keeping their markets open”
Although not many details of the India-Japan partnership on 5G are known, it is an issue that merits close attention of the policy makers in New Delhi and Tokyo particularly how they wish to manage US’ “Clean Network” initiative.
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Consultant Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi.