Nations Make Infotech Investments

Asia Pacific Outlook

Nations Make Infotech Investments

By Patrick Seitz
Senior Editor

SAN FRANCISCO - Three infotech projects launched by the government of Thailand accent a growing trend among nations throughout the Asia-Pacific region to boost information technology spending to compete in the global economy, industry experts say.

The Thai government is spending more than $105 million on the projects to improve its IT infrastructure and create a high-tech research and development center. They are: GINet, a nationwide, high-capacity network to link government agencies; Software Park, a computer software and telecommunications research and training center; and ThaiSarn, a distance learning network.

The projects are part of the country's IT 2000 policy, said Pairash Thajchayapong, a director in Thailand's Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. "These three projects are spread over three to four years," he said.

Though Thailand's investment is small in comparison to IT programs launched by neighboring countries such as China, it highlights a trend among nations in the region to boost IT spending, according to officials attending the Asia-Pacific Information Technology Summit here Nov. 19-21.

The most expensive of the three Thai projects, GINet, will cost 2 billion baht ($52 million), Thajchayapong said. Thai officials are now consulting Canada's Government Telecommunications and Informatics Services, which built a similar network, he said. Implementation of the GINet began in October. Plans call for the project to be completed around the end of 2000.

The Thai IT investments pale in comparison to those being made in China. For example, the Chinese government is spending more than $5.5 billion to set up an economic development zone for the information technology industry in the Pudong district of Shanghai, said Qidi Wu, vice chairman of the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission.

"We have decided the information industry is a new pillar industry in Shanghai," she said. The so-called infoport at Shanghai will begin initial operations later this year and will be completed by 2010, she said.

On a broader scale, China expects to finish construction of a nationwide, high-speed digital backbone and information switching center before 2005, said Wang Xuan, chairman of the Peking University Founder Group in China.

"I'm really excited to hear about the investment levels these countries are making in new infrastructure," said Randall Whiting, president and chief executive officer of Palo Alto, Calif.-based CommerceNet, an industry consortium dedicated to accelerating the growth of Internet commerce.

"In order to meet the needs of the next century, we must continue to invest in this infrastructure. It will be the basis of our global Internet-based marketplace."

Asia-Pacific governments should seek public-private sector partnerships, encourage the development of leading-edge technology and create favorable regulatory environments to support IT industries, Whiting said.

Information technology companies are finding significant business opportunities as Asia-Pacific nations build and improve their infrastructures, said Robert Timpson, president of IBM Asia Pacific in Tokyo. For instance, IBM has a deal with the Chinese Ministry of Railroads to service personal computers in several hundred railroad depots across China, he said.

Knight Ridder photo

Andrew Grove, chairman and chief executive of Intel Corp.

Andrew Grove, chairman and chief executive of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., said he was impressed with how the Asia-Pacific nations are tackling their IT needs.

"The one that I view with awe is Singapore. Granted, Singapore is the smallest of them and contained to being a city state, but the information development and general advanced thinking of Singapore is an outstanding example for the other countries," Grove said.

Singapore's government is wiring the country with a broadband telecommu-nications infrastructure, called Singa- pore ONE, as part of its effort to create "an intelligent island," said Lee Yock Suan, minister of trade and industry for Singapore.

Here's a glimpse of other government IT programs in the region:

In Malaysia, the focal point of the country's IT development efforts is the Multimedia Super Corridor project in Kuala Lumpur. The government is providing tax incentives, basic infrastructure and liberal cyber laws to promote the corridor as a research and development zone for companies using or creating multimedia technology.

Leo Moggie, Malaysia's minister of energy, telecommunications and posts, said he expects private sector investment in the zone of about $2 billion within the next five years. About 10 companies will be operating from the site by the end of the year, he said. So far, 79 companies have received government approval to operate in the Multimedia Super Corridor.

In Taiwan, the government has spent $600 million on Internet infrastructure and has completed an islandwide fiber optic line, said Shih-Chien Yang, ministry without portfolio, Chinese Taipei.

In the Philippines, the government has undertaken a nationwide high-tech training program to provide the much-needed talent pool for software development and hardware design, said Philippines President Fidel Ramos.

The country also has set up special industrial zones in 65 locations, including the "cyber cities" housed at the former U.S. military bases of Clark and Subic Bay, he said.

In Indonesia, government officials are upgrading the country's communications in- frastructure through the Nusantara 21 program, said Tunky Ariwibowo, Indonesia's minister of industry and trade.

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