Washington: A day after saying that India’s No. 1 science partnership should be with the United States (US), Secretary of State S Jaishankar began his official engagements in Washington DC with a focused meeting on technology in its various dimensions at the National Science Foundation on Monday.
During the interaction, Jaishankar met senior officials from the trifecta of administration (including senior White House and commerce officials), academia (including university presidents), and industry (including representatives from the semiconductor, biotechnology, and computing sectors).
After the meeting, Jaishankar tweeted, “Began my program in Washington DC with a roundtable organized by the National Science Foundation. Many thanks to Director Dr. S. Panchanathan for putting together a great selection from policy, research, industry and academia.” The session, he added, was about “Technical Security, Trustworthy Research and Talent Development”. “Encouraged by enthusiasm for India-US partnership in these areas.”
Senior administration officials at the meeting included Laurie Locascio, the undersecretary for standards and technology and the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Alondra Nelson, acting director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); and Tarun Chhabra, senior director for technology and national security at the White House National Security Council. Industry leaders included Jimmy Goodrich, vice president of global policy at the Semiconductor Industry Association, Dario Gil, senior vice president and director of IBM research and member of the National Science Board, and Jason Kelly, founder and CEO of Gingko Bioworks, a company backed by the NSF, which also funded Google in the early stages as a sign of its focus on innovation.
The meeting was seen as a sign of pioneering multifaceted collaboration between India and the US in areas that will shape the future; These are based on high levels of strategic trust and will have dramatic repercussions on national security, the economy and employment, and cutting-edge innovation.
The Indian context
According to a person familiar with the development, the meeting focused on national security and technology, human resources development for technology, and economic security.
Jaishankar first outlined India’s context and its advances in science and technology. The minister also spoke about how India has focused on technological development, be it through the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) system to stimulate production or the New Education Policy (NEP) to move pedagogy away from traditional learning methods and to focus on creativity and innovation. During his travels in India, the minister referred to his encounters with students and researchers who already held patents, which was quickly becoming a new measure of achievement in a society that had hitherto been focused on rankings.
It is understood the minister also spoke of “trustworthy data” and “trustworthy scientific research” and how they could be a major driver of economic growth and innovation. The focus was on improving coordination with what the Indian Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who attended the meeting, called the “triple helix of innovation – government, academia and industry”.
On the US side, people overhearing the discussions said, almost all speakers emphasized the close partnership that already existed in at least four aspects.
Initially, existing and planned partnerships between research institutes in both countries were recognised. Knowledge partnerships, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), are already a focus of Indian diplomacy in the US. Speakers noted the collaboration between Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and American institutions and emphasized the role Indians play in America’s technology industry. For example, 40,000 Indian engineers are involved in chip design for semiconductors in American companies.
The second focus was on the intensive economic cooperation that the scientific exchange had brought with it. Companies cited the vast R&D centers they have in India while acknowledging the potential in emerging technology fields, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, areas that Jaishankar has historically identified as key areas of the future.
Discussions also centered around the talent pool, with representatives from academia and industry emphasizing the importance of enabling this talent pool to “catalyze both the bilateral partnership and global innovation and growth.”
And finally, the strategic dimensions of tech were a topic in the talks. The idea, participants said, was to develop “cooperative habits” between India and the US. This has already happened bilaterally and under the Quad umbrella. In the bilateral framework, the US and India announced the Critical and Emerging Technologies Initiative (iCET) in May, “led by the two countries’ National Security Councils to expand the partnership in critical and emerging technologies.”
In its joint statement in March 2021 following the first leadership-level summit, Quad had agreed to “begin collaborating on the critical technologies of the future to ensure innovation is consistent with a free, open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific”. A working group on critical and emerging technologies was formed, focusing on “technical standards, 5G diversification and deployment, horizon scanning and technology supply chains”. In September 2021, the Quad countries announced a policy statement on the design, development, governance and use of technology. And at the senior-level summit in May 2022, the four countries in the grouping said they will “advance interoperability and security by signing a new cooperation agreement to diversify 5G suppliers and open RAN.” They also made a statement on the Joint Statement of Principles on Supply Chains for Critical Technologies.
“Partnership Number One”
The minister’s meeting came a day after he said that strengthening science and technology is vital to India’s future and that India recognizes this.
Speaking at a community event on Sunday, Jaishankar said, “From PM (Narendra) Modi down there are efforts to expand educational institutions, particularly in science and technology, to expand research into a field like space. If you look at the Covid era, it wasn’t that we were just happy to be making vaccines, there was a surge of interest in health, pharma and science.”
It is important for India to “build deep strengths, have supply chains domestically, have patents, have researchers and have ties with other countries like the US,” Jaishankar said.
“Especially in science and technology, there is no question in my mind that the number one relationship should be with the United States. It is a country that has made enormous strides. It is the foundation on which American power is built. The Indian-American community can be a bridge,” he had told the diaspora in recognition of the role Indians play in STEM to give the US an advantage.