3rd APEC Ministerial Meeting on the Telecommunications and the Information Industry

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong Opening Address - 3rd APEC Ministerial Meeting on the Telecommunications and the Information Industry

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
Opening Address - 3rd APEC Ministerial Meeting on the Telecommunications and the Information Industry
Singapore, 3 June 1998

Excellencies, APEC Ministers for Telecommunications and the Information Industry, Senior Officials and Industry representatives from the APEC region, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

A year ago, in opening Asia Telecom 97, I spoke of how telecommunication, broadcasting and computer technologies were converging, and the arrival of an information era with consequences far more significant than we could ever imagine. The economic situation then was rosy.

Today, Asia is reeling from an economic crisis. This crisis is partly brought about by globalisation and the revolutionary changes in telecommunications and information technology. Our world has shrunk in distance and time. Financial decisions and the transfer of funds can be made at the click of a mouse, far away from the place where their impact is felt. This is the global village we are living in.

Will this global village be destroyed by market forces generated by free flow of information and rapid movements of capital in and out of countries? The answer depends on how well prepared economies are in responding to such forces of change. The theme for this Third APEC Ministerial Meeting on Telecommunications and the Information Industry, "Realising the Asia-Pacific Information Society: Reaping the benefits of convergence for the Asia-Pacific's new role in the Global Information Society" is therefore most appropriate and timely.

It is a bold vision to create an Asia-Pacific Information Society. This vision will not only shape the development of telecommunications and information technology but also the society of the future.

The issues you will discuss are complex. In many cases, you will be sailing in uncharted waters. The increased convergence of computing, broadcasting and telecommunications has presented you, the government regulators and policy makers, with new challenges. For example, should the Internet and electronic commerce be regulated? If so, by who and how? Industry paradigms are fast changing too. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between telecommunication and computer networks. The demand and provision of telecommunication and information services is growing at a tremendous pace, and across national boundaries.

But even as we speak of information highways and e-commerce, we must not forget that many developing economies still have to grapple with issues of access to basic telecommunication services. Their concerns need to be addressed too.

Lessons from the Asian financial crisis

Given the current uncertain economic climate in Asia, some economies may not give priority to prepare for the advent of the Asia-Pacific Information Society. But they would pay a price for the delay. The financial crisis has shown how crucial it is for us to deal with the challenges of an increasingly interdependent and networked global environment. Our markets have become so interlinked that the difficulties one economy faces invariably affect other economies.

Telecommunications and information technology have facilitated this growing interdependence. They allow information and capital to be transferred across borders in greater quantities and at ever increasing speeds. In today's digital marketplace, transactions are effected online in real-time and the repercussions of any market development can be felt worldwide immediately. Delayed responses can be very costly, in economic or political terms.

Like it or not, national economies are now part of a globally inter-linked economic system. The world marches on relentlessly towards even greater integration. To opt out of this march would only mean being cast onto the wayside. To retreat into isolation would mean denying our people the vast opportunities for economic and social development that come with being part of the global village.

There is no choice but to come to grips with the new world. Rather than fight the trend, we have to learn to embrace changes and make them work for us. APEC economies must work together to ensure that we are in the driver's seat to steer developments on the information superhighway.

Developed and developing economies alike are faced with similar questions: How do we make this transition to an Information Society? How do we ensure that our workforce cope with such radical changes? How do we address the special needs of certain groups?

Preparing For the Information Society: Singapore's Experience

In response to these challenges, several APEC economies, including Singapore, are constructing national information infrastructures and implementing national IT plans. It is useful to share our experiences. For a resource-scarce country like Singapore, equipping ourselves for the information age is crucial for us to remain relevant.

Last year, Singapore launched its pilot national interactive, multimedia broadband network called Singapore ONE. By the end of this year, Singapore ONE will be available not only to all homes and businesses in Singapore, but also to schools, libraries and community centres. We expect up to 50% of Singapore homes to be subscribers of Singapore ONE by the year 2001. Access to Singapore ONE will eventually be almost as pervasive as access to telephone services.

Singapore ONE is more than just a communication network. It will empower Singaporeans to work efficiently in a "smart" environment, to facilitate the use and access of information to enhance their business, personal and family lives. On-line government services will be available on the network. Interactive multi-media educational materials will be accessible from home PC terminals or TV sets for self-pace learning. Singapore ONE could be the start of a whole new way of working, living and learning. The Singapore Government will continue to give strong support to the industry in this phase. It will invest directly where necessary to create a critical mass of applications and users for Singapore ONE.

However, the best infrastructure in the world will be useless, unless the people are able to use it. Singapore, therefore, places great emphasis on IT skill training. Employers are encouraged to train their workers in IT skills. We also invest heavily in our children. By 2002, computer learning in schools will take up 30% of curriculum time.

Today, we celebrate the completion of the pilot phase of Singapore ONE and the start of its commercial launch. Over the next twelve days, organisations involved in the Singapore ONE project would hold promotional activities island-wide to demonstrate the possibilities that Singapore ONE brings.

Tapping the Resources of A Multilateral Co-Operative Framework

Our information superhighway will not stop at our borders. We would like to link it with all APEC economies. This will support the vision of the Asia-Pacific Information structure which is to link national information infrastructures within APEC and beyond. So far, Singapore ONE has broadband connectivity to Canada, Japan and the US, and discussions are underway with other economies. It is also available to some 100,000 subscribers on the @Home Network, a cable modem network in North America. Progressively securing and enhancing these links will enable more knowledge to be shared and electronic commerce to thrive. This will contribute to the realisation of the Asia-Pacific Information Society.

Functioning in a world that is fast becoming borderless, it is clear that our domestic policies have profound implications not just on our own markets but regionally and globally as well. Now more than ever, APEC's goals of multilateralism and mutual cooperation must be reinforced. A strong partnership must be forged among APEC economies to collaborate and to find joint solutions.

The APEC Telecommunications Working Group has, under your guidance, made significant headway on the adoption and use of information technology throughout the APEC region. Its work is significant in the larger context of APEC's goal of free trade within the region by 2010 and 2020. Beyond contributing to the development of info-communications infrastructure and services, it will also broaden trade and cultural linkages, lower barriers to business and enhance mutual understanding throughout the APEC region.

A New Partnership between the Public and Private Sectors - An Important Dimension to International Engagement in APEC

To realize the Asia-Pacific Information Society, a strong partnership between the government and the private sector cannot be over-emphasised. The primacy of the market in shaping global developments means that regulators and policy makers must be more responsive to private sector needs and views. The complexities of global issues today require both government and the private sector to work together, each contributing in its respective ways.

Enhanced collaboration between the public and private sectors will become increasingly important in APEC's on-going work. The private sector's contributions to the APEC process have been invaluable. One commendable example of public-private sector cooperation is the multilateral Mutual Recognition Agreement on Conformity Assessment for telecommunication equipment. This first ever agreement will help APEC economies gain quicker access to state of the art telecommunication equipment and technologies.

Similarly, I would like to encourage the private sector to contribute to APEC's efforts to develop a work plan on electronic commerce, so as to facilitate more effective ways of doing business in APEC.

There is, I would suggest, an important quid pro quo to giving the private sector a greater voice in our policy discussions. In return, the private sector must play a larger role in supporting economic and technical cooperation and human resource development within APEC. While APEC governments stand committed to on-going market reforms, the industry must in turn take on a greater role in training human resource and developing suitable IT applications to cater to specific user needs. Such an investment will also make business sense. Equipping the Asia-Pacific workforce with the necessary IT skills would not only increase their productivity but enlarge the market for telecommunication goods and services too.


APEC Ministers for Telecommunications and the Information Industry can lead the way within APEC to harness information technologies and services. It is a heavy responsibility, but I am confident that you will rise to the challenges of helping the APEC economies become the Asia Pacific Information Society.

On this note, it is my pleasure to declare the Third APEC Ministerial Meeting on the Telecommunications and Information Industry officially open.