Awaji Conference Statement 2002

The Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan 2002
(August 3rd 2002, Hotel Anaga)

The development of information and transportation technologies in the latter part of the twentieth century has thoroughly transformed people's lives. It has now become easy to move people, goods, and money beyond borders on a global scale, and transmit information instantaneously at very low cost. According to the United Nations, the population of Internet users reached 500 million in 2001, with 47% based in the English-speaking world and 9% in Japan. Approximately 756 million people traveled abroad, a number that continues to rise. In the future even more people, goods and money will flow around the globe, and Internet will also expand.

In such circumstances, the Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan 2002, was held for two days on the island of Awaji to carry out focused discussions on the theme of "Information and Human Exchange in the Asia Pacific Region."

Asia was hurt financially by a currency crisis in 1997, but the region's ability to grow remains strong. Asia maintains a large share in global manufacturing, particularly in consumer electronics, textiles, and motorcycles. Using this export of manufactured goods as leverage, the countries of Asia have achieved economic development that is even helping to drive the global economy. In addition, Asia has seen remarkable growth in IT-related business in recent years. Advances that utilize the Internet such as e-Commerce, e-Logistics, and e-Trade are innovations that originated in advanced nations, as with traditional industries, but a noticeable difference here is the nearly complete lack of a time lag which developing nations need to "catch up." The day is near when China and other Asian countries will reach a level of IT development equal to that of Western Europe and Japan. Asia already has the highest number of mobile phone subscribers in the world. In the twenty-first century, Asia will not be trying to catch up with Western Europe as in the past, but with a focus on IT, Asia will be an active and dynamic world leader.

Revolutionary advances in the communications industry have enabled the instantaneous exchange and sharing of knowledge and information, reducing limitations of time and space. This has provided a tremendous boost to economic activity, and presents vast possibilities for improving competitiveness and efficiency. Actual examples prove that the use of information technologies can improve manufacturing efficiency by 20%. There is no limit to the extended effects that IT can generate. Still, this is no time for excessive optimism. Advancements in IT also bring drawbacks. One of these is the "digital divide" that has emerged, and various cultural and social problems to which this divide has contributed. Because of the rapid pace of technological innovation in communications, there has inevitably arisen a lag in establishing the systematic framework and legal structures for utilization of these technologies. In consideration of the nature of IT, international cooperation is also needed in regard to these structures. Other issues that may arise include conflict with traditional cultural values and the spread of "moral hazards." How effectively these problems can be solved will be a major issue for the future in being able to take advantage of the dynamism that IT can bring to the economy.

With the advance of information technologies, the danger exists that an economic divide will grow between the few people who have access to these technologies and the overwhelming majority who do not. Yet blocking the advancement of IT is no solution. Rather, there are two effective ways to prevent this danger. One is to simplify and popularize the use of information technologies. An analogy can be drawn to electrical appliances. These were originally invented in the United States, and in the process of their spreading use in Japan, adaptations were made, which create more compact and easy-to-use appliances, greatly contributing to their further use around the world. Similarly, with IT, related tools need to be made more convenient to popularize their adoption. The second is a method that involves the cooperation of governments and private sectors to help give IT access to as much of the public as possible, including society's neediest, to reduce to the bare minimum the number of people without IT access. In other words, the importance of information education again must be stressed as they pertain to information technologies.

IT has revolutionized the dissemination and sharing of information, even exceeding the earlier development of newspapers and television. In certain respects, televisions and the conventional mass media have weakened face-to-face communication, even deteriorating severely community's social security function. As information technologies continue to develop in the future, it is possible that we may fall into the same rut as with conventional mass media, leading to the destabilization of society, an outcome that must be avoided. We must therefore not forget the importance of face-to-face communication and the fellowship among people that it encourages, through heart-to-heart exchanges. With an awareness of these issues, as participants in the Awaji Conference, we see IT as an important means for improving people's lives and advancing the economy, and strongly wish to emphasize the importance of the complementary relationship between deepening understanding among different cultures and the advancement of information technologies.

The twenty-first century should be an age of coexistence among diverse cultures, wherein societies will be able to deepen their understanding of other societies and cultures, developing mutual respect and trust through information and citizen exchanges on the personal and corporate level, involving many kinds of organizations and polities. There is little doubt that IT is a tool with immeasurable potential to promote these developments. Also, its crucial role in the growing dynamism of Asia is unquestionable. The ability to live with and incorporate use of IT will be a vital issue for this age.

~Based on the above discussion, we urgently present the following proposal.~

The future development of IT in the Asia Pacific is crucial for drawing economies forward and boosting the vitality of society, and requires further promotion.

Cooperative systems, the creation of unified standards, appropriate legal structures, and personnel training in this field are crucial in the Asia Pacific region.

To redress the digital divide, IT education is required, along with the popularization of IT.

In an age of multicultural cooperation in the twenty-first century, IT should be promoted and used to expand interactions among people, cities, and regions, and to deepen understanding of different cultures. We firmly believe that at this time the dynamism of IT will make vital contributions in the interest of the global community.

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