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World - Asia/Pacific

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Beijing fights elusive Y2K bug

Brand sells software to fix the Y2K problem, but most Chinese companies can't afford overseas consultants
RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon reports 53 percent of more than 500 Chinese firms don't know how to detect year 2000 bugs.
Windows Media 28K 80K
 

April 1, 1999
Web posted at: 9:08 p.m. EST (0208 GMT)


In this story:

City of 10 million-plus spent under $500,000

Air executives to walk the Y2K plank

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



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.

City of 10 million-plus spent under $500,000

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.

Beijing is stepping up efforts to bring computers into Y2K compliance  

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.

Air executives to walk the Y2K plank

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.


RELATED STORIES:
Nuclear plants strive for Y2K compliance
April 1, 1999
Important U.S. computer systems likely to miss Y2K deadline
March 31, 1999
Russians won't confirm halt in Y2K cooperation with U.S.
March 31, 1999
Will Y2K mean lights out?
March 29, 1999
Thailand: Buddhist monks make sure they're Y2K compliant
March 29, 1999
Getting the mail through Y2K
March 27, 1999

RELATED SITES:
The Year 2000 Information Center
Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem
General Accounting Office: Year 2000 Computing Crisis: GAO Reports, etc.
US Dept. of State: China Home Page
Chinese Embassy Home Page
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