Telecommunications and information technology in China are about to transform the entire economic and social life of the country and radically change the demands and opportunities of the market. Until recently, businessmen could find even the most basic telecom facilities only in the largest cities. Many resorted to running their operations from major hotels, since these were frequently the only places offering reliable communications with the outside world.
China is anxious to attract foreign investment to help maintain its burgeoning economy, but it is still bedevilled by an outdated and inefficient infrastructure hamstrung by petty bureaucracy, red tape and restrictive practices imposed by officials anxious to protect their own interests. This has been especially true in the telecom sector, but considerable efforts are now being made to modernize, not only the networks but their administration and management. The success of these efforts is crucial to China's ambition to meet the challenges of the information age.
Detailed studies of China's telecom industry are being carried out under the auspices of the Telecommunications Research Project (TRP) in the Centre of Asian Studies at the University of Hong Kong. Headed by John Ure, a specialist in telecommunications in South and Southeast Asia, the TRP began operation in July 1993. Its initial aim was to produce independent academic research into the social and economic implications of telecommunications and related information technologies as they affect Hong Kong, either directly within the territory or indirectly through Hong Kong's international communications and trade.
Focusing on China
Perhaps inevitably, the TRP very soon began shifting its focus to include China in its research. The beginning of this second phase of study and the end of the Hong Kong-focused first phase was marked in May by a two-day conference at which the speakers included more than 20 of China's top telecommunications policy advisors, researchers and hands-on administrators.
The event was divided into two distinct parts. The first day's session comprised a closed workshop involving 50 participants while the second day involved an open conference for 170 people. The open conference program covered the entire spectrum of modern telecommunications in China, with special emphasis on:
* The information superhighway and China's Golden Projects;
* Television and telecom information services in China;
* Going online in China with Certnet, Internet and e-mail;
* Transaction technologies in China and the Golden Card banking project;
* EDI (Electronic Data Exchange); and
* Data communications and services in China.
Of special concern was how China is going to finance its telecom infrastructure, whether it has the necessary human resources to plan, develop and operate the networks, and such issues as billing and the need to develop or acquire software to operate the networks.
"This was the first time that such an event had been organized, and it provided a unique opportunity for companies to gather information, exchange ideas and develop new business connections in China," Ure told Research*Technology Management. "It will also assist our further studies because we will be using the funds generated by this event to organize workshops in China in cooperation with Chinese organizations, focusing on specific information service and technology areas. …