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Nation quickens spread of e-gov't
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-05 10:40

The government staff still love to work in the real world despite mounting calls for e-government services.

A State Council report shows that government services are still delivered mainly face-to-face or on paper, despite the mushrooming number of governmental websites in recent years.

The findings obtained after a three-month study show that only 5.2 per cent of China's government websites are frequently used.

Nearly half of the 11,764 governmental websites are simply one-way mirrors, the State Council Informatization Office said in the report, meaning that more interaction is badly needed.

Facing the situation, the State Council will take the lead in e-government service.

A State Council official who wanted to remain anonymous, said that central government departments will deliver documents and meeting notes through the web by the end of this year while a long-awaited central-government portal will be launched this year.

China had approximately 600,000 approved websites by the end of 2003, up 60.3 per cent from 2002, said the report on Internet resources in China, which was produced by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) with authorization from the central government.

However, about 90 per cent of the websites are in the more developed provinces, showing a growing gap between rich regions and less developed regions, the report said.

Beijing, South China's Guangdong Province, East China's Zhejiang Province and Shanghai are the top four for the number of websites, accounting for 56.8 per cent of the total.

In western China, however, many governmental officials face cyber difficulties.

Wang Gang, a 30-year-old assistant for a county head in Sichuan Province said his daily business has always been done face-to-face or on paper.

"I have no basic knowledge of the Internet and I cannot e-mail," Wang told China Daily when asked to conduct an online interview this week.

The report also showed that all government websites are in Chinese while only 14.8 per cent have English pages and 3.0 per cent include Japanese.

The lack of content in foreign languages has also brought complaints from foreigners.

Canadian businessman Mark Justine, said there is no English version in some websites of cabinet departments, not to mention agencies at provincial or local levels.

"That makes it difficult for me to read them," said Justine.

But some cities are leading the way. Northeast China's coastal city of Dalian has set up Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean versions of its governmental website.

Zhao Xiaofan, director of the State Council Informatization Office said the Internet in China has developed rapidly despite its late introduction. Even in the early 1990s "Internet" was still an alien word to the public.

Zhao said the e-government initiative would promote democracy by providing residents with more digital connections, such as e-mail, and simplifying election procedures by, for example, allowing voting online.

"What's more, they can make administrative work more transparent and efficient by networking government departments and introducing Intranets and so on," said Zhao.

He said the Chinese Government has shown great enthusiasm for information technology as part of the country's modernization drive.

The government also set ambitious goals for Internet usage and information technology development in the 10th Five Year Plan (2001-05).

By the end of 2005, China should have a broadband network that combines Internet, telephone lines and cable TV networks while the number of Internet users will reach 150 million or more than 11 per cent of the population.

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