There are, at this time, few things more urgent or more important for ASEAN - or for any nation or region - than building "knowledge societies."
ASEAN's leaders have recognized this. In the plan of action that they adopted in Hanoi in December 1998, the leaders called for the establishment of the ASEAN Information Infrastructure, or All. For a start, they called for agreements among ASEAN members "on the design, standardization, inter-connection and inter-operability of Information Technology systems by 2001." In the same plan of action, they resolved to "(d)evelop the information content of the All by 2004."
In compliance with these orders, ASEAN formed a working group on the All, which put together a number of recommendations and submitted them to the ASEAN Economic Ministers in October last year. The core recommendation was the concept of e-ASEAN. According to this concept, e-ASEAN would pull together and integrate ASEAN members' efforts in information and communications technology while maintaining links with the Global Information Infrastructure. It would involve inter-connectivity, with its own high-speed backbone. It would seek to harmonize policies, regulations and standards in information and communications technology within ASEAN. It would place priority on the use of that technology for tourism, trade, education and employment. It would pay particular attention to cooperation in the development of human resources for information and communications technology. It would be government-led but private sector-driven.
The ASEAN Economic Ministers adopted the working group's recommendations and agreed to organize a combined public-private sector Task Force to carry out the recommendations and bring e-ASEAN to reality. The task force is to be headed by Mr. Roberto Romulo, former Foreign Minister of the Philippines, who once headed IBM's regional operations in Southeast Asia.
At their summit in Manila last November, the ASEAN heads of state and government welcomed the launching of e-ASEAN and carried out a dialogue with Mr. Romulo and global and regional leaders of the information-technology industry. They also agreed on "the establishment of a free trade area for goods, services, and investments for the info-com industries under a new e-ASEAN agreement." They noted the particular usefulness of information and communications technology for education and the development of human skills.
Of course, ASEAN's outlook on the information age, information and communications technology, and knowledge industries goes beyond technology and its applications. It is entirely consistent with the comprehensive and integrated approach of this workshop and of the conference to which it is leading. This project's title refers to "knowledge societies" rather than to knowledge industries or knowledge economies. The term sends the message that the impact of the information age is not just on industry and the economy but on society as a whole and on people's very lives.
We in ASEAN regard information and communications technology as an amazingly powerful tool. It gives us and our children easier, quicker and broader access to facts and, hopefully, the wisdom of the ages. It immensely helps in education and training and in the acquisition and development of science and technology. It makes production more efficient and trade quicker and less expensive in ways that continue to multiply. It makes travel easier and cheaper. It enables us to render social services more effectively.
Information and communications technology offers ASEAN and other developing countries a vital opportunity and means to leapfrog the historical stages of development and bypass the type of industrial revolution that the developed countries had to go through. Through this technology, we could telescope the development process. Already, we have seen how technology has greatly increased the productivity of many workers and of whole societies. …