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Region struggles to find place in online world

June 12, 2000

The growing importance of information technology to Asian economies was stressed by participants at the Asian Science and Technology Conference in the Year 2000 hosted by Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc. last week at Nikkei Hall.

Under the theme "Mutually sustained existence and growth in Asia supported by information technology," discussion focused on the benefits and dangers that the rapid advance of IT offers Asia.

"The number of Internet users is expected to grow at 50% per annum in Asia over the next few years, triple the rate of the U.S.," noted Chong-Moon Lee, founder and chairman of the Silicon Valley R&D Fund LLP.

Lee suggested that in order to develop Internet societies, business styles and government practices purporting to represent Asian values must be changed.

Sugata Mitra, senior vice president of India's National Institute for Information Technology, said that educational methods must be reformed for the 21st century. In experiments conducted among poor Indian communities with little exposure to English, it was found that children learned to use the Internet with surprising speed, Mitra noted.

-- Izumi Aizu, principal of Asia Network Research, said the Internet era holds both promise and uncertainty for Asia. True, the Internet facilitates cross-border communication and makes electronic commerce possible with only a small initial investment. But it is difficult for Asia to systematically tackle the growing worldwide threat of computer viruses and other problems the way Europe and the U.S. do.

-- Hiroshi Yasuda, professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, noted that Asians communicate through visual imagery, demonstrated by the widespread use of Chinese characters. He wondered if that would enable Asia to offer mobile multimedia devices different from those in the West.

-- Steve Chang, president and chief executive officer of Trend Micro Inc., said that while the dominance of U.S. firms in the operating-system industry is waning, cell-phone-based Internet access, broadband wireless Internet and other Internet technologies coming out of Asia are on the rise. Asia should not miss this chance, he said.

-- Toru Nishigaki, professor of Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies at the University of Tokyo, said that the environment has been created whereby a code common to all the diverse written languages in Asia could enable Asians to communicate with each other online without using English. Setting up such a system could prove quite difficult, but the subject raises the question of how to maintain Asian diversity in the globalizing world.

-- Tamotsu Aoki, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said that even in highly computerized Asian countries, government controls get in the way of citizens' access to information. Though IT holds great potential for Asia, with U.S.-centered globalization forging ahead, countries such as China may lurch toward an English-language culture.

(The Nikkei Weekly June 12 Issue)

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.