ad info

 > magazine
 web features
 magazine archive
 customer service
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
TIME Europe
Asiaweek Services
Contact Asiaweek
About Asiaweek
Media Kit
Get up to 3 months of Asiaweek free when you subscribe online!


Digital Divide
To bridge it, nations need to invest in basics

They prey even on Hong Kong's free economy

This year's meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Brunei was billed as the "information technology summit." The theme was the same when leaders of the G8 industrial nations met in Okinawa this past summer. All of which makes us wonder if something is truly at work here — or whether I.T. is just the flavor of the year at big-time international conferences. So far, not much has come out of all the talk about the topic. Japan announced it would earmark $15 billion to bridge the "digital divide" between rich and poor countries, though without specifying how the money would be spent. The manifesto issued at the end of last week's APEC meeting proposed a sweeping but vague goal of getting all citizens of the vast region plugged in by 2010.

Too bad the United States was not represented in Brunei by Bill Gates. He is more than just the boss of Microsoft; of late, he has become something like the president of global I.T. More to the point, Gates has had pertinent things to say about the growing digital gap. Speaking at a conference near his home in Seattle last month, Gates said it was ludicrous to think that billions of poor people are going to benefit from the technology revolution without advances in more mundane things such as education, health care and income levels. "I mean, do people have a clear view of what it means to live on $1 a day?" Gates asked. Though the world's richest man may not himself know what such poverty means, few can fault his sincerity or logic.

It fell to Bill Clinton to partly make Gates's case in his address to the APEC conference. At current rates of growth, noted the U.S. president, half the forum's countries will have just 4% of their populations online by 2005 (compared with 72% for the G8 economies). That would be a long way from APEC's stated goal of universal Internet access in Asia.

The forum has often been criticized as being too big and too diverse to be of any real value — other than to provide leaders of the 21 member nations with an annual opportunity to hobnob and take pictures together in the same national dress. In this instance, however, the diversity may have served a useful purpose. The leaders represent a microcosm of the digital divide (and a pretty big one at that, considering that their nations are home to two-thirds of the world's population). The countries range from well-wired Singapore, with half a million computers for 4 million people, to Papua New Guinea, where fewer than 1% of citizens can log on to the Web.

Across the region, the Internet revolution is triggering a revolution of rising expectations. It makes no sense to talk about putting a computer in every classroom, if there are places without classrooms. It is pointless to speak of connecting people to the Web without making more telephones available. That means investing more in education, health programs and old-economy infrastructure. Which brings the argument back to APEC itself and its reason for being: to promote free trade and open markets, boosting global prosperity. Besides advocating greater Internet access, the forum must continue to back "a fair and rules-based trading system" as well as China's entry into the World Trade Organization and a new round of WTO negotiations. The world cannot close the digital gap without focusing on all the issues that divide rich nations from poor ones.

Back to the top

Write to Asiaweek at

This edition's table of contents | Home


Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?


DoCoMo: Japan's leading mobile phone company is taking its popular i-mode technology global

Bandwidth: Boom With new undersea cables criss-crossing the region, ain't seen nothing yet in Asia

China: A turf war among major telecom players is looming in the world's second-largest mobile market

TAIWAN: Political intrigue is behind a sex scandal that's adding to the pressure on President Chen

JAPAN: Rebel wannabe Kato Koichi self-destructed, but his war to oust PM Mori shook the LDP

SINGAPORE: The government is once again urging Singaporeans to procreate. But success breeds selfishness

Training: Is a low-skilled workforce costing Thailand precious foreign direct investment?

Investing: As Asian democracy evolves, money managers in the region learn new lessons


Medicine: Fed up with medical blunders, Japanese patients fight for greater accountability from doctors and hospitals

Ceramics: Tradition takes a back seat as China's cutting edge potters strut their stuff in Hong Kong

Editorial: A growing digital divide is threatening the region's prosperity. Bridging it requires some basic investments

Letters & Comment: Not just the elite oppose Estrada

Looking Back: The prisoner of Sentosa

The Bottom Line: Asiaweek's ranking of world economies

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.