Digital divide perpetuates poverty, Asia's leaders say

The divide between countries able to exploit technology and those without access to it -- the digital divide -- will be a major cause of perpetuating poverty in the future, several Asian leaders told the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg this week, according to transcripts from the event.

Malaysia's deputy prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that although the digital revolution is profoundly transforming people's lives and will fuel the engine for future economic growth, not all countries will be able to benefit.

"The knowledge economy and e-commerce have become new sources for future wealth," he said, according to a transcript of his speech. "Unfortunately, developing countries that lack technological capabilities, infrastructure and adequate knowledge will not benefit from this revolution.

"A digital divide has been created, a divide that will further widen the gap between the developing and developed countries. If the problem is not addressed, it will be the source of future poverty in developing countries."

Pham Gia Khiem, deputy prime minister of Vietnam, said: "Scientific and technological advances have become a strong momentum for development. The rich-poor gap within and among nations keeps increasing."

China's Prime Minister Zhu Rongji said technologically advanced countries should share their advances with the developing world.

"Rapid development of science and technology in today's world has increasingly become a powerful engine for human progress," he said. "It is essential that we extensively apply the research results, especially those in information, biology and other hi-tech fields, in resources exploitation, environment protection and ecological development. Spread of science and technology should recognize no national boundaries."

His call to facilitate technology transfer was echoed by Somsavat Lengsavad, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Laos, one of the least technologically advanced countries in Asia.

"To succeed in this endeavour, our own efforts have to be complemented with tangible support and full cooperation from the international community, such as financial assistance, technology transfer and others," he said.

Choi Sung-hong, South Korea's minister for foreign affairs and trade, said his country was trying to share its experience in technology developments.

"We are actively participating in global efforts to address the issues of the side effects (of globalization), including that of digital divide," he said. "In fact, given our comparative strengths, we have provided US$387 million of soft loans for 20 IT infrastructure projects in fifteen countries."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said advanced countries needed to do more to help less developed countries.

"Let us face the uncomfortable truth. The model of development we are accustomed to has been fruitful for the few, but flawed for the many. The rich countries must lead the way. They have the wealth. They have the technology. And they contribute disproportionately to global environmental problems."

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