in the Indo-Pacific

In this module, we introduce the concept of techdiplomacy and explain how it’s being practiced across the world.

Main Take - aways

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Takeaway #1
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Takeaway #1
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What is Techdiplomacy?

Technology Diplomacy is not a well-defined concept and applications differ from country to country. However, Brazil’s Tech Ambassador, Eugenio Vargas Garcia, summed it up quite nicely as:

“the conduct and practice of international relations, dialogue, and negotiations on global digital policy and emerging technological issues among states, the private sector, civil society, and other groups.”

Essentially, techdiplomacy is applying the processes and skills of diplomacy to other, less familiar, topic areas, and to engagements with non-traditional stakeholders and partners the technology industry. Another factor is that techdiplomacy transcends national jurisdictions since technology companies, and their products and services, are not bound by physical borders.

What are techdiplomats?

Numerous governments have included issues of digital and technology into their foreign policy and defence strategies.  Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper (2017) pays special attention to the impact of technological change on global affairs. Switzerland, in 2020, introduced a Digital Foreign Policy Strategy that looks at digitalisation, new technologies and the fourth industrial revolution. And UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres prepared a Roadmap on Digital Cooperation and will launch a Global Digital Compact in September 2024.

To support these strategies, governments and international organisations have appointed ‘Tech Ambassadors’ or ambassadors with technology in their portfolio.

Denmark was the first country to appoint a tech ambassador to Silicon Valley. The European Union followed in 2022 when it opened an office in Silicon Valley in light of upcoming European legislation that would affect many Silicon Valley-based tech companies.

Other diplomatic services created an ambassadorial role within their headquarters like the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Since 2017, Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber and Critical Technology operates from Canberra. In 2022, the US State Department appointed a first Ambassador at Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy. Within the UN system, UN Secretary General Guterres created the position of Tech Envoy in early 2021.

Another example is India. In 2020, the Ministry of External Affairs set up a new division that would deal with new, emerging and sensitive technologies headed by a Joint Secretary. Amplified during its G20 chairmanship, Delhi has grown into an influential player in global technology discussions.

Besides ambassadorial roles, various diplomatic services created networks of specialists (attaches) posted at embassies worldwide or at representations to international organisations.

Techdiplomacy in practice in the Indo-Pacific

On the one hand, Techdiplomacy is about making sure the interests, concerns and views of a country are heard and recognised by major technology companies.

An example is the Christchurch Call through which New Zealand and France championed a collaborative approach by governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. It was followed by several G7 statements calling on social media companies to take up responsibility for their content.

Developing countries and small (island) economies have a great interest in making sure technology companies recognise them as a market worth investing in, for instance in subsea fibre-optic cables and satellite connectivity. But they also need to find ways to make sure any concerns are heard and addressed – such as those of affordability, accessibility and cultural appropriateness.

Techdiplomacy is also about the international negotiations that strengthen and advance international rules, norms, principles and standards related to responsible use of technology issues. Examples include ongoing UN negotiations on ICT security and lethal autonomous weapons systems.  At the bilateral level, this also relates to a country’s approach to engaging main vendors for critical pieces of digital infrastructure. For instance, many countries in North America and Europe as well as Australia were concerned about Huawei’s role in future 5G infrastructure.

India, for instance, has made the promotion of its Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) scheme a major component of diplomacy and trade promotion. It offers other emerging economies in Asia and Africa access, support and capacity building to make use of India’s model for digital development. DPI is a flagship export product that Indian techdiplomats – in and outside of government – promote overseas.

On the other hand, techdiplomacy also refers to activities that technology companies undertake to nurture relations with governments, regulators and international organisations. This can include these companies’ government affairs teams (those monitoring regulatory initiatives and leading advocacy campaigns toward policymakers and legislators) as well as global diplomacy teams, such as Microsoft’s representative office, established in 2020, to the United Nations in New York.

As new technologies – such as artificial intelligence - become ever more critical to nation’s economic competitiveness and national security, we can expect the diplomatic surge in technology issues to continue, expand and deepen.

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