"Asia and Europe in the Multimedia
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Shunji Yanai, Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Foundation, Mr. Tommy Koh, my dear Asian and European friends. First of all, on behalf of all the participants in the multimedia workshop, I would like to thank the organizers of the AEYLS, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and the Asia-Europe Foundation, for providing us with this unique opportunity over the last two days to engage in a free and constructive exchange of views and to get to know each other. I would also like to thank all the participants in the workshop for their very thoughtful contributions and for having made our discussion such a lively and fruitful one.
What made this debate so exciting was probably that we shared the feeling that we were exploring a field which is going to shape, to a large extent, the future of our societiesCnamely, multimedia and all associated technologies.
The starting point of our discussion was indeed a general agreement that what is happening around multimediaCthat is to the say, the construction of the so-called information or network societyCcannot be reduced to a mere technological breakthrough. What we are witnessing now is the eve of a major revolution, at least as important as the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.
For Asia and Europe, this revolution is proving a major challenge. This is something on which all workshop participants agreed, although they expressed very different expectations, reservations, hopes and fears as to where this technology is taking us. What was at stake, participants felt, is no less than the capability of our countries, languages and cultures to make a successful transition into the digital age.
Our first area of discussion was the evolution of information technology itselfCfor instance, what was described as a "mediamorphosis," the rapid merging of a plurality of medias into a single media, and the simultaneous emergence of a global information infrastructure, a worldwide network presaged by the Internet.
Discussion quickly focused on the various challenges Asia and Europe had to address in the near future as a result of these evolutions, at the same time trying to identify the positive and negative bearings which these could have on our societies.
A CULTURAL CHALLENGE
In all participants' minds, the issueCthe challengeCis essentially cultural. Yes, these technologies are providing us with fantastic tools that can be put to use, especially to bridge the gap between Asia and Europe, to bring our peoples closer by facilitating people-to-people contact and by creating faster and richer channels for cooperation and exchanges.
On the other hand, however, many participants from the two regions expressed concern as to the space presently allowed to our cultures and languages within the existing global networkCthe Internet. All participants mentioned in particular the predominant position of American content and technologies as problematic, although their reactions towards this common situation tended to differ. The unbalanced predominance of one language, while convenient, is seen, mostly by Europeans, as a cause for cultural bias. Some were also worried that instead of bridging the gaps, the emergence of a global network might mean greater disparities between the "information-rich" and the "information-poor."
Ways to minimize these cultural threats were explored by the workshop, coming to the conclusion that in all our countries the top priority was the education of our peoples, and especially our youth, in the effective use of information tools and in Internet awareness. The other emergency identified by the workshop, and again this is concerning both Asia and Europe, is the need for the development of a much stronger presence for our languages and cultures on the global network. Therefore, all initiativesCpublic or privateCaiming at reinforcing European and Asian production of content should be fostered, since what is at stake in the long term is the preservation of our regional identities.
Participants felt that these problems should be addressed within the ASEM, and in this context I must express our satisfaction that this meeting has made an extensive and clever use of the Internet as an integral part of this event. In the future, one of the tasks of the ASEM and the ASEF could naturally be, we thought, to promote the use of these technologies in Asia-Europe cooperation programs. Putting into place a permanent virtual space for dialogue and exchanges between us (a discussion forum) on the ASEM Internet site was also seen as a useful initiative.
AN ETHICAL CHALLENGE
The next major challenge the participants felt it was necessary to address is what was defined as an ethical challenge. The emergence of a new type of society calls for the definition of new values, especially when the technologies involved have such a substantial social impact. Some participants pointed out that the question was not only to be able to communicate but also to know what and why we communicate.
Beyond this philosophical point, many participants expressed the opinion that their countries should be able to decide whether or not to be exposed to the content broadcasted through the different multimedia channels of communication (from satellite TV to the Internet). Some, particularly Asian participants, felt that the intrusion of unwanted content would be a threat to their moral values and therefore expect some kind of regulation.
Generally, participants shared the belief that we were in need of a deontological framework that could respond to the new issues raised by the exponential development of the Internet and its applications. Opinions were nonetheless quite contrasted between Asian and European participants when it came to defining what was to be banned, by whom and for what reasons, making our cultural differences more obvious in that respect. The consensus was clearer on some issues, especially regarding the strong need for improving protection of privacy in order to prevent misuse of these technologies. The latter were described by some participants as a double-edged sword that can both be an opportunity for greater freedom but can also drift toward the invasion of privacy, what the Europeans referred to as a Big Brother-like scenario.
The impact of these technologies on the functioning of democracy, especially the possible use of electronic voting, was also mentioned by some participants as an issue worth being examined. Some even wished that it be put on the agenda of the upcoming ASEM meetings.
AN ECONOMIC CHALLENGE
One further challenge all our countries, whether Asian or European, are facing is, as may come to mind in the first place, an economic challenge.
Investing in the field of multimedia was mentioned as a priority by most participants. The command of these technologies is a key to economic growth in three ways. Firstly, because multimedia is a booming worldwide industry that is to become one of the greatest sources of wealth and employment. Secondly, because multimedia tools make companies more reactive, more flexible, more competitive. Thirdly, because the infrastructure provided by multimedia networks will soon attract and absorb a great part of the commercial flow on a planet-wide scale, with the growing popularity of electronic payment systems. As agreed by the majority of participants, remaining outside of this infrastructure would therefore jeopardise the economic development of our countries.
This point led us to raise the issue of the glaring disparities between countries that can afford to make the necessary investments and those who are constrained by more limited budgetary resources, something which Asian participants from developing countries were particularly concerned about. At the same time, some European participants stressed that the cost of information infrastructure is much lower than that of industrial infrastructure, with an impact possibly just as important on economic growth in the future.
The fact that the necessary investments will not result in profits in the near future was seen, by both the Asian and the European participants, as a reason to believe that the governments still have to play a key role in the construction of better information infrastructureCor even, according to some participants, in the production of content.
The conviction emerged that the ASEM and the ASEF could provide member countries with some new tools, one of which could be corporate databases, including business opportunities and calls for partnership from both European and Asian sides. They could be made conveniently available on the ASEM Internet site. The ASEF could also play a role in informing member countries of new developments in the field of business applications related to information technology and in fostering technology transfers.
In conclusion, I would like to point out the interesting fact that divergences of opinion within the workshop regarding the future cannot be grasped simply in terms of a regional dichotomy. In fact, Asians and Europeans do already share a number of common hopes. In that sense, going global should hopefully mean the drawing closer of Asia and Europe. Thank you for your attention.
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