Medium-sized economies such as Australia need an international system of rules because we’re not big enough to throw our weight about and bend others to our will.
That’s why we have been promoting reform of the World Trade Organisation, which adjudicates on trade disputes according to clear rules. The rules have not kept pace with changes to the world, to economies, nor to technology.
As the US and China race to become the world’s leader in mobile technology, artificial intelligence and quantum computing – each of which has military as well as civil uses – they need to have clear rules to play by.
If they do, the competition will be healthy. If they don’t, the fear is they will “decouple” their tech ecosystems. That will harm global growth – which will be driven ever more by technological progress – and it will hurt smaller countries such as Australia if we’re forced to choose team A or B.
As Professor Greg Austin, a cybersecurity expert at the University of NSW, puts it: “How do we work towards something that doesn’t look like some inevitable move towards this technology Iron Curtain?”