Australia needs to develop its own national research and development strategy if it is to hold its own against the simmering rift between China and US, which are jockeying for power on the world stage, a new analysis has revealed.
According to the new report by the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre, Australia will be caught in the middle as the two superpowers race to outdo each other on technological and scientific progress.
“Technology is the defining element of the United States’ growing strategic competition with China,” the report said.
“The slow disentangling of technological integration between the United States and China that this competition entails will have significant consequences for allies like Australia, who are closely coupled with the United States’ scientific and technological infrastructure.”
Since 2017, the US has made moves to shore up what it calls the “US National Security Innovation Base” through a suite of “whole-of-society” reforms and initiatives.
These reforms and initiatives include the inclusion of academics, universities and entrepreneurs as essential to national security; new rules and regulations to protect IP; new regulatory bodies to protect foreign direct investment; greater immigration control of foreign students studying STEM subjects; and even a criminal justice campaign.
But, as the US rolls out its initiatives, Australia will come under pressure.
“America’s policies are aimed at its strategic rival. But they will nonetheless have long-term global implications for close allies like Australia,” the report said.
“It is clear the way Australia’s science and technology ecosystem currently operates will be increasingly under strain in a ‘world of technologically driven competition’.”
Australian universities hit hard
According to the US Studies Centre, Australia may face pressure to curtail its collaboration with China in order to continue working with the US.
“In interacting with the United States they will be confronted with new rules, regulations and barriers erected around funding sources, international collaborations and further legal oversight,” the report said.
“While competition-driven challenges to supply chains, intellectual property protection, foreign investment and export controls will be spread widely in the US economy; the impact will be more acute for countries that are relative ‘takers’ of technology, such as Australia.”
One of the biggest losers of the new rules of the game will be Australian research universities, which produce, partner and are the location of much of Australia’s scientific, technological and commercial intellectual property, the report said.
Australia will have to make adjustments in its strategy to accommodate for and mitigate these trends.
“Australia’s current approach to funding research and development will no longer be sufficient in a technological world that is more nationalised, securitised and competitive,” the report said.
“Canberra must work to build its own technological ‘counterweight’ as a bulwark against global fragmentation allowing it to engage with strategic competition on its own terms.”
This should be done through scientific partnerships with countries that are neither with the US nor China, such as the ‘Five Eyes’ partner countries of Canada, New Zealand and the UK.
Failure to invest in the domestic scientific and innovation base will see Australia get left behind, the report said.
“Australia’s access, integration and collaboration with the United States’ leading technology hubs and minds will become increasingly predicated on its corresponding relationship with China.
“As it stands, large parts of Australia’s research and development base, a source of strategic and economic strength, may not endure the fragmentation of the world’s innovation ecosystem.”