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 Assessments of WSIS by different stakeholders

Recollections of the WSIS Geneva phase

Yasuhito Tamada
The then First Secretary to the Permanent Mission of Japan in Geneva

I served for three years for the Permanent Mission of Japan in Geneva as an attaché from the ICT Authority, MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, formerly MPHPT).

My experiences in the preparatory process of the WSIS were most impressive and instructive to me among other businesses in Geneva; since my position was multi-faceted and I had to play different roles in different occasions, which was really an exciting experience.
My position was like this:

  1. I was a Japanese diplomat to represent general interests of Japan, sharing some of them with western developed countries and simultaneously being a member of Asian region, where developing countries were quite dominant in number.
  2. I was also an expert in ICT, having been engaged in the internet policy and broadband promotion measures in my preceding career in Japan.
  3. Moreover, I was expected to function as a bridge between Tokyo and ITU Secretary-General Utsumi, who used to be in a high position in our government and whom we strongly support.

1. Dual structure of the WSIS and “Non-paper” based discussion
The scope of the WSIS was information society as a whole, which was clearly beyond the coverage of the ITU. At the core, however, were there ICT related issues as main themes of discussion and the ITU definitely played a leading managerial role in the preparation process. This dual structure made it difficult for many member states to show their formal position explicitly at the early stage.

Under such circumstances, Permanent Missions in Geneva of western countries tried to put discussion forward on the “non-paper” basis. This modality to discuss on the basis of “non-paper” was quite fresh to me. I urged Tokyo to determine Japan’s position as soon as possible so that we could participate more actively in the discussion in Geneva but in vain at the early stage.

Thus, I myself drew up a draft of Japan’s non-paper, considering the discussions in Geneva and my experiences in Japan. It contained basic recognition of the WSIS, operational aspect of the preparatory process, output images of the summit, etc. I again encouraged Tokyo to determine its position with that draft and it was Japan’s first step forward to the WSIS. This experience taught me how important it was for those engaged in discussion on site to propose practical ideas to the capital rather than to behave as a critic.

2. Bureau meetings and Framework discussion
Bureau meetings at their early stage were also quite distressing to me. I was accustomed to the ITU meetings where substance and speed in determination would matter. ITU Secretariat prepares documents to facilitate the discussion. However, at the bureau meetings, member states devoted themselves to repeatedly confirming basic principles like bureau never deciding substantial issues or like the importance of civil society’s participation; bureau sometimes took a whole day to decide merely the date and time of the following bureau meeting; some members were suspicious of legitimacy of the documents prepared by the secretariat and sometimes neglected them; almost no interests were given to substantial reference such as broadband; on the other hand, member states were eager in thorough discussion of the rules of procedure. Tokyo seemed embarrassed in such incredible situation never met in the context of ITU meetings.

However, I found, especially in summit process, that framework modality sometimes has greater power than substantial discussion. It was such a precious opportunity that ICT stakeholders could share recognition on that point.

3. Exchanging information and views in Asian group
In the preparatory process of the first phase, western countries group (WEOG) was keen on exchanging information and views. Compared to WEOG, countries in the Asian region had a limited exchange of information and views since they found difficulty in reaching consensus due to its diversity. Even in such a situation, our home government was successful in compiling Tokyo Declaration in the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference overcoming a number of difficulties. Through such an experience, I became more eager to enhancing communications with other countries in the Asian group.

At the beginning of the second phase, Asian group was faced with another difficulty in deciding bureau membership; 10 members raised their hands for 5 seats. But I was still confident that we could reach consensus because I made great efforts in enhancing communications with each other in Asian group. As I had expected, our group could manage ourselves in deciding membership for the second phase through the spirit of collaboration and compromise.

4. Bridging Tokyo, ITU and WSIS stakeholders
I made efforts to prepare opportunities for stakeholders of WSIS and ITU, including our Ambassador and Secretary-General Utsumi of ITU to enable exchange of views at most appropriate timing. For instance, just before the PrepComs we invited Ambassadors of host countries or others in Geneva, and during the session of the ITU Council we invited ICT experts from the capital as well as WSIS and ITU key players in Geneva. I believe these arrangements could facilitate more effective discussion at formal meetings. I also believe that they could also contribute in some ways to bridge member states with Secretary-General Utsumi, who was straight-forwarded and sometimes unexpectedly misunderstood.

I am proud if we could serve as an interconnection point between Foreign and ICT Ministries of member states, stakeholders of ITU and WSIS.

Final remark
I learned from a number of experiences that a summit is not only the process of conflict and compromise in substance but also the corpus of political dynamics of framework, leadership, procedure and logistics. Stakeholders have different positions and strategies as time passes in the long preparatory process over a few years. It is definitely a political creature that is really hard to manage. I am confident that the experiences in the WSIS process in which ITU and member states could manage the creature successfully will lead to brilliant future.





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Updated : 2006-12-12