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(Photo by William WEST / AFP)

Australia will not be sharing sensitive technology with China

Australia and China have been not on the same page for some time, especially when it comes to technology. Ever since the pandemic, the relationship between the two nations have been tense.

Australia has announced measures to ring-fence dozens of sensitive technologies from foreign interference, stepping up efforts to safeguard against “national security risks” from China and others.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a list of 63 “critical technologies” to be promoted and protected at an online forum in Sydney — a step toward limiting what government, industry and universities can and cannot share with foreign counterparts.

The list includes 5G communications, quantum technologies — which are based on the physics of sub-atomic particles — artificial intelligence, advanced magnets, 3D printing, drones and vaccines.

The measures aim to “balance the economic opportunities of critical technologies with their national security risks”, Morrison told a forum hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Items on the list will not be automatically banned for export or proscribed, but may be subject to “additional risk management”, including measures to stop “unwanted tech transfer”.

The 5G battle between Australia and China

Australia has become increasingly concerned about the transfer of sensitive technology to foreign military powers, particularly to China, under the guise of academic cooperation.

In 2018, the Turnbull government blacklisted both Huawei and ZTE from Australia’s 5G network in response to security advice. Canberra has also moved to limit the ability of Chinese state-linked firms to operate critical infrastructure in Australia.

A decision to effectively bar Huawei from running Australia’s 5G network was the catalyst for a major diplomatic rift between the two countries.

For almost two years, high-level diplomatic contacts have been frozen and Beijing has levied a raft of sanctions that some have called a “shadow trade war”.

Australia is currently in the process of auctioning 5G spectrum licenses.

Norms and values

Morrison on Wednesday also listed nine critical technologies that will be the focus for investment, hoping the expertise will help “uphold our liberal democratic traditions” in what he described as an era of “strategic competition”.

“The simple fact is that nations at the leading edge of technology have greater economic, political and military power,” he said.

“And, in turn, greater capacity to influence the norms and values that will shape technological development in the years to come.”

The list also includes nuclear technology — a marked departure for a country that has long been opposed to fission power and currently only has one research reactor.

Australia recently signalled its intention to purchase long-range, ultra-stealthy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States or Britain, cancelling a vast order of diesel-powered subs from France.

But the list goes further, including a range of nuclear technologies linked to power generation, space travel, reprocessing and isotope production.

Many of the other listed technologies have military or dual-use applications, such as synthetic materials that bend light or radio waves, self-fixing materials designed for advanced body armour, laser communications or quantum cryptography.