Mr Modi’s speech came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was working to prevent tensions over Taiwan escalating into war after Defence Minister Peter Dutton labelled it as “inconceivable” Australia would not contribute militarily if the US came to Taiwan’s defence should China invade.
“We work very closely with all our partners and our allies in the Indo-Pacific to ensure that it is free and open, and that’s where all of our efforts are focused,” Mr Morrison said.
“That’s what we want to see happen, and that’s why we want to ensure there’s an appropriate balance in the region to ensure that we don’t move down the path that those types of events would realise.”
US President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held their first virtual summit this week, with Mr Biden emphasising the need to preserve the status quo over Taiwan, but it otherwise produced no breakthroughs.
With Beijing offering no sign it would end its freeze on high-level contact with Australian ministers, Mr Morrison said the government remained willing to restart dialogue with Mr Xi and Chinese ministers but would not back down on points of difference.
”We’re very clear about what our interests are, our security interests, our economic interests,” he said. “We will always stand up for Australia’s interests. There’ll never be any compromise on that.”
Mr Modi said the digital age was “changing everything around us”, redefining politics, economy and society, but how a nation used technology was linked to its values and vision.
“It is raising new questions on sovereignty, governance, ethics, law, rights and security. It is reshaping international competition, power and leadership. It has ushered in a new era of opportunities for progress and prosperity,” he said.
“But we also face new risks, and new forms of conflicts across diverse threats from sea-bed to cyber to space. Technology has already become a major instrument of global competition and key to shaping the future international order.
“Technology and data are becoming new weapons. The biggest strength of democracy is openness. At the same time, we should not allow a few vested interests to misuse this openness.”
Mr Modi said India’s experience with technology for public good, inclusive development and social empowerment was a model for the developing world, and could help build a world that reflected democratic ideals and values, which was as important as national security and prosperity.
He said it was essential for democracies to work together to invest in R&D in future technology, develop trusted manufacturing bases and supply chains, deepen intelligence and operational co-operation on cyber-security, protect critical information infrastructure, prevent manipulation of public opinions and forge standards and norms for data governance and cross-border flows.
“It should also recognise national rights and at the same time promote trade, investment and larger public good,” he said.
While Mr Modi urged deeper cyber co-operation, the head of Australia’s cyber-security agency the Australian Signals Directorate expressed doubts on expanding the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network.
Japan has raised its interest in joining the English-speaking partnership made up of Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.
But ASD chief Rachel Noble told a University of NSW cyber event it would be better for Australia to “partner with other countries when it is in our mutual interests to do so”, when required.
“It’s a funny kind of phrasing of that question because the Five Eyes is the Five Eyes. In the signals and cyber-security we got together after the Second World War and even before that,” she said.
“So when you think about an alliance and a set of relationships, capability and integration that goes back nearly 80 years, it’s sort of a framing issue to go: ‘Oh, can someone just sort of join it today?’
”I think, though, in the strategic environment that we’re facing … the importance of democratic countries standing together and sharing information, intelligence, capabilities and insights for those who might seek to disrupt that freedom of will and movement, and democracy and our values – then we do have to stand together.
“And we do already have very good relationships beyond those Five Eyes partnerships to that very end.”
Ms Noble said she was worried the internet was splintering between free countries and authoritarian states. “There are a lot of countries in the world who already do a great deal of management … curation of what their own people can see through the internet.”