Technology is at the heart of contemporary geopolitics, shaping global alignments and defining the contours of global engagements.
Frontier technologies, in particular, are inducing a rapid Fourth Industrial Revolution led by emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and 5G. The economic potential of frontier technologies has been assessed as transformational in its impact on states globally. States are looking to an integrated scheme of frontier technologies where advancements in one sector could lead to breakthroughs in another.
Among such leading technologies, 5G is expected to touch $13 trillion in global economic value and create 22 million jobs by 2035, and AI is expected to add over $15 trillion to the global economy by the year 2030. The geopolitics of the next few decades is likely to be shaped by the technological competition between two axes of power—China on the one hand and a US-led coalition on the other. In this, both US’ trans-Atlantic partners in Europe and its Indo-Pacific partners like Australia, India, South Korea, and Japan could play decisive roles.
The emergent geopolitics would also likely shape economics and politics in equal measure and lead to strategic re-assessments. In particular, China’s high-tech innovation and advancements in areas like AI, Big Data, 5G, nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, IoT, and quantum computing have the potential to realign the balance of power and balance of influence in a future global order.
These technological advancements by China form part of its revolution in high-tech sectors that it seeks through its ‘Made in China 2025’ programme, geared towards achieving an advanced industrial base, a smooth supply chain, and integrated by better coordination between the two. For other industrial nations reliant on the existing mechanisms of industrial manufacturing and supply chain—led by the US—China’s call for a tech-overhaul is not just a wake-up call but also a destabilising factor that has a threat potential.
In the Indo-Pacific, this realisation among nations is already strengthening cooperation. The Indo-Pacific strategy of the Biden Administration lays down a plan for an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) that seeks to promote elevated trade standards, governance of the digital economy, bolster security and resilience of supply-chains, usher investments in transparent, highstandards infrastructure, and build digital connectivity.
The IPEF seeks to bind regional democracies with a common arc of purpose and leverages technology to do that. From a geopolitical perspective, it intends to present a counter strategic framework to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The Quad is leading a cooperative agenda among the Indo-Pacific democracies on emerging technologies. Its leaders have agreed to establish a Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group to facilitate cooperation to ensure that technology standards are governed by shared interests and values.
Frontier technologies have underscored the importance of integration of various sectors of an economy under an overarching framework of technology—extending from availing resources to exports through supply chains.
For democracies of the future, internally this has signalled a call for increasing alignment between various sectors in future economies like health, climate change, and trade. Externally, it has meant aligning their production bases with external supply chains as well as preventing disruptions in supply chains. Both these efforts are themselves integrated and could thrive under cooperative democratic efforts between states.
Leveraging of technology could be the single most important factor in effecting this order but also reshaping the geopolitical landscape of the IndoPacific by countries on two sides of the power axes in the region.