Beijing fights elusive Y2K bug
April 1, 1999
BEIJING (CNN) -- Concerned that China could take a giant leap backward on January 1, government and business officials are turning to international consultants in a desperate race against the millennium clock to bring the poorly prepared communist nation into Y2K compliance.
Paul Brand, one of a growing number of Western entrepreneurs helping China with Y2K, is discouraged by the country's progress to date.
"They approach it with vim and vigor, but it's just that they're starting too late," he says.
Another obstacle: cost. Brand offers software to fix the problem, but most Chinese companies and government offices cannot afford the overseas consulting fees.
In China's capital, a city of more than 10 million people, the Beijing government has invested less than $500,000 in a special office to tackle the problem, a tiny fraction of what major cities in the United States pay.
The Beijing Y2K office offers free advice to any who call, but the man in charge is worried.
"We need to guarantee our water, electricity, coal, gas, traffic systems, medical services, sanitation, fire and safety. These big public services are a big problem. We've done a lot of work, but I'm still extremely nervous," Chen Xinxiang says.
China's banks, stock markets and other financial institutions began first and probably will weather the millennium storm in relatively good shape.
Nonetheless, hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to complete reprogramming in key industries, reports the Beijing Morning Post.
Officials doubt that important government ministries -- as well as many smaller agencies that receive little support -- can meet an October deadline for fixing their systems.
One government agency has come up with a forceful incentive to fix the problem: The civilian aviation authority is requiring airline executives to fly on New Year's Day.
What will happen to the remainder of the economy and the country remains a mystery. A February survey of 512 firms found 53 percent don't even know how to detect their Year 2000 bugs.
To raise awareness, the country is boosting its media campaigns, seminars and training sessions. But most of the success in beating the millennium bug may come from luck, or more specifically, China's low-tech agrarian culture.
Few Chinese use computers. Two-thirds of them still live on farms. And many small businesses file their accounts the old-fashioned way -- with an abacus.
Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon contributed to this report.
Nuclear plants strive for Y2K compliance
The Year 2000 Information Center
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