South Korea, one of the world’s most wired societies, offered Tuesday to share its expertise with other Asian countries to help bridge the region’s IT divide.
The offer came as foreign ministers and other minister-level officials or deputies from 30 countries in Asia and the Middle East attended the opening ceremony here for the sixth meeting of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD).
"Korea will not spare efforts to support countries in not only building advanced network infrastructure ... but also in introducing e-government services," Information and Communications Minister Rho Jun-Hyong said in an opening speech.
Organisers said South Korea’s resolve would be illustrated in a declaration to be adopted later. The nation has 70 percent of its homes connected to broadband Internet, AFP reported.
IT is a main theme of the meeting but South Korean officials said other issues such as North Korea’s nuclear programme would also be tackled.
Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram urged Seoul to lay the groundwork for bridging the digital divide. In response, Prime Minister Han Duck-Soo said his country would organise education programmes for IT experts or send Internet youth volunteers abroad.
The divide must not translate into "a rift in the economic and social opportunities of our constituents," he said.
"The information gap between the haves and the have-nots is more glaring in this age of instant information access and sophisticated communications technology," Han said.
He said the ACD should become a regional forum to forge "collective economic strategies" to maintain Asia’s competitiveness.
"As other regions come together in the spirit of cooperation we cannot afford to be the only continent lacking a regional forum to consolidate our strength to project a unified voice in world affairs."
The ACD, the brainchild of Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was inaugurated in June 2002.
Organisers say it is significant as the first and only body covering the entire Asian continent. Critics say the membership is too diverse for it to be meaningful.
Nitya said the ACD should move from "conceptual ideas to concerted action" to become a vibrant framework for dialogue and cooperation. For example, it should look at concrete measures to promote alternative energy.
"We need to continue to have strong political will in order to maintain strong momentum in this forum," he said.
Han urged the international community to support six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, saying stable security is the precondition for the region’s continued economic development.
North Korea’s promised disarmament is stuck because of an impasse over the return of its funds that were frozen in a Macau bank at US instigation.
In a separate event the South Korean, Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers met Sunday on the southern resort island of Jeju to discuss the nuclear issue and other topics.
ACD members are Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.