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Mr Houlin Zhao, China
Candidate for the post of Director, Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB)

Question 1
Many consider that the ITU is threatened by the upheavals of the telecommunication industry. New organizations such as the WTO or regional bodies take center-stage and industry fora that are less formal and more focused multiply. What future do you see for the ITU? What would be your personal contribution (what initiatives/focus would you bring) as elected official to bringing innovation and fostering the adaptation of the Union to the driving forces of change so as to keep the ITU a pre-eminent forum for international telecommunications?

Yes, indeed, there exist some "threats" to the pre-eminent role of the ITU in general, and the ITU-T in particular, in the world-wide telecommunication field, which I characterise, in my vision statement, as "challenges". As far as I can see, there are no reasons to be pessimistic for the future of ITU. A simple fact is that none of the potential challengers including WTO, regional organisations and forums/consortia has expressed any intention to replace ITU, since they are not in a position to do so. WTO has neither the expertise to develop technical standards for telecommunications, nor mandate or authority to control the frequency allocation. Forums/consortia can concentrate on specific subjects, but they can not cover the whole telecommunication spectrum. The work of regional organisations will be limited, by their nature, to their regions. I believe that, as long as the ITU continues to work in a way which satisfies the needs of the members of international telecommunication community, they would not opt for the creation of a new organisation to replace the ITU. On the other hand, the ITU and its members are aware of the "winds of change" and the challenges ahead. Together, they will develop the strategy and solutions for the new millennium at the forthcoming ITU Plenipotentiary Conference to be held in Minneapolis in October 1998. The main goal is to keep ITU more efficient, more agile and broaden its membership base. The ITU must do its job better than anyone else. "Where there is a will, there is a way." With the legacy of its past achievements , I am convinced that the ITU will certainly be able to maintain its pre-eminent role in the telecommunications field in the new millennium.

Should I be elected to the post of Director of the TSB (Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau), I will strive to exploit the special attributes of the ITU-T in order to strengthen its pre-eminence and to maintain its leading position in global telecommunication standardisation in the new century. In my vision statement, which has been presented together with my Curriculum Vitae to the ITU Member States and Sector Members, I highlight five priorities: improving working methods, strengthening participation of the private sector and developing countries, active co-operation among the three ITU Sectors and with outside bodies, new financial arrangements, and fully committed management of the TSB.

Question 2
In today’s telecommunication environment, it is no longer realistic to believe that the Union can be the focal point for all matters relating to telecommunications in the global information economy and society. The world is now too complex and telecommunications too pervasive for a single organization to be the focus of all issues of concern to the international community. What do you consider to be the core competencies of the ITU? What issues should ITU focus on and what could be phased out of ITU’s mandate or left to regional/sub-regional organizations? What should be ITU’s role in telecommunication sector reform?

I should say that today’s environment is not unique, since the ITU has faced similar challenges in the past. For example, the study of local network connections, the study of terminal technologies, assignment of frequencies for national services, scientific research for new telecommunication technologies, etc. were not carried out by the ITU. From its founding, the ITU has concentrated on international concerns, which should be considered as one of the major reasons for its success. In today’s environment, the ITU should continue to focus on international issues. The ITU should leave regional issues to the regional organisations, scientific research to the research institutes, and the preliminary engineering studies to private companies. On the other hand, all studies relating to telecommunications which require co-ordination at international level should be the principal focus of the ITU. I will strive to maintain the ITU’s lead in the international sphere.

Question 3
Recent ITU conferences have shown that the requirements of global networks and national sovereign rights are increasingly on a collision course. How can they be reconciled in an ITU context?

This is a hot issue which I have followed attentively, and which was debated at almost all ITU conferences during the recent years. The second ITU Policy Forum discussed it in length. In my opinion, both sides of the debate do have a common understanding that no body wants to be isolated from the rest of the world. Also, it is understood that national sovereignty should be respected.

So where is the problem? The following reasons might be advanced: on the one hand, very rapid development of telecommunication technologies, the world-wide trend of liberalisation and globalisation of telecommunication services, the strong desire to have access to modern telecommunication means, etc; on the other hand, differing opinions on the schedule of introduction of new services in certain areas, different opinions on the sharing of expenditures and benefits of projects, etc. The social values, national priorities, different cultures, the degree of development of a nation, vary from one part of our world to another. There are also many misconceptions and mindsets from both sides.

To attempt to solve the problem, I would encourage closer collaboration amongst the different parties, and the ITU can play a pivotal role in fostering this collaboration. The second Policy Forum of ITU, which was held in March 1998, established a focus group to bring the different parties together. This focus group provides a good platform for all parties to freely present their views. I will devote a good deal of my time and efforts to fostering this collaboration.

Question 4
Demands on the organization are increasing faster than its resources: deregulation brings more players on the scene and, in turn, more members in the ITU; on the other hand, the financial foundation of the organization is eroding because of the smaller number of contributory units chosen by members. Various proposals to strengthen the ITU including cost-recovery and revenue-generation options have met stiff resistance as did the proposal to grant the industry a greater say in the allocation of resources and in the setting of priorities in exchange for a more important share in the expenses. What would you advocate as the way forward?

This question only proves my earlier point that the ITU has a positive future. Let us look at some statistics for ITU-T: 143 ROAs (Recognised Operating Agencies), 181 SIOs (Scientific or Industrial Organisations), 39 regional or international organisations, including ISOC (Internet Society) participating in its work. There were 31 new Sector members in 1997 and 42 in 1998 (as on 1 September 1998). Furthermore, 188 ITU Member States are entitled to participate to the work of ITU-T.

The financial challenge and setting a balance budget are complex problems for many organisations. ITU members have concentrated on this for several years. Some proposals to change the situation will be submitted to the forthcoming Plenipotentiary Conference, including:

  • introduction of more cost-recovery services such as the registration of Universal International Freephone Numbering, provided by the TSB;
  • introduction of revenue-generation services such as electronic bookshop for pre-published Recommendations;
  • introduction of budget transparency.

We have to study this issue with great care. We should not forget that the ITU is a specialised agency of the UN mandated by governments. We should also bear in mind that there are more and more private players in telecommunication industry. In ITU, there are Member States and Sector Members. To cope with the new environment, the current financial contribution system needs to be re-evaluated. The ITU should find ways and means to attract new members. It should be noted that the increase of contributions from Sector Members has already lead to their request for more power. However, this is not the only approach to be envisaged . The increase of contributions goes along with wider and more efficient services provided to members. In fact, even a reduction of contributions would not attract new members should the pre-eminent role of ITU not be maintained. Today, the Sector Members play an increasingly important role in ITU-T and the Member States continue to assure the role of co-ordination and supervision at both national and international levels. I will seek to create an environment in which members can enjoy working together in a profitable and constructive setting.

Question 5
Given the broad membership of the organization (vendors, scientific organizations, service providers, broadcasters in countries from the poorest of the planet to the most powerful nations), how can the organization address their competing needs in a cost-effective way?

We must first establish where the costs are incurred. Chief amongst these are organisation of meetings and dissemination of information among members. The introduction of financial transparency in ITU will help in carrying out this task. Should I be elected, I will encourage, promote and enhance the use of electronic document handling (EDH) and remote-access systems wherever possible, and encourage the developing countries to participate in this process. I will support those measures which would help run ITU meetings in a more cost-effective way. I will seek the maximum co-operation of members in finding ways to avoid unnecessary work. In addition, I will try my best to convince ITU members and other organisations to avoid overlapping. I will encourage co-ordination at national and regional levels. The ITU regional offices should continue to assist the developing countries of their region for any business regarding telecommunications.

Addressing the "competing needs", I would like to point out that in the T Sector of the ITU, members have a common objective: to produce telecommunication Recommendations. It is true that the interests of members are not always in harmony. Sometimes members come to meetings with conflicting opinions. However, thanks to the long tradition of a spirit of co-operation, the ITU-T has so far always managed to reach agreement through the consensus process. This spirit of collaboration is the key to continuing the success of ITU.

Question 6
The 1995-1999 Strategic Plan said "At present, the ITU is surely one of the least known international organizations, in spite of the fact that the development of the global telecommunication network is increasingly vital to the welfare of humanity. The Members of the Union have asked it to play a leadership role in the international community. To do this, the ITU must communicate its message more effectively than it does at present, to ensure that governments are aware of the importance of telecommunications as a tool for social and economic development". What concrete steps would you take to fulfill this objective, what would be your "Communication" agenda?

Yes, no matter how good the ITU’s image is in the international telecommunication community, it is little known by the man in the street and by many policy makers. The ITU Strategic Plan for 1995-1999 also declared that one of the mission of the ITU Development Sector is to raise awareness of the importance of telecommunications for national economic and social development. The ITU-T could co-operate with the D Sector in this respect. Missions to promote the ITU at the government level by official visits to various countries are shared among ITU elected officials. It is also important to designate other ITU officials to promote the ITU and telecommunications at the regional or international forums in the context of economic and social development. The ITU regional offices should become focal points on promoting the ITU in their regions. I will support holding the ITU conferences and meetings in different countries of the five regions. This will play a significant role in promoting ITU in the different regions. I believe, with the rapid development of telecommunication services in many countries, the name of the ITU will be better known in the 21st century.

Question 7
What would be your top three priorities for the period up to the next Plenipotentiary Conference?

In my vision statement, I highlight five points on which I would start to work immediately, should I be elected as Director of TSB. I consider all these five points important and urgent. To answer your question, I have regrouped my five urgent points into three top priorities:

  • increasing the efficiency and rapidity of the ITU-T and its ability to adapt by improving its working methods, introducing new financial arrangements, and efficient management of TSB;
  • strengthening the position of Sector Members and increasing the participation of developing countries in the T Sector; and
  • promotion of active co-operation with the other ITU Sectors and outside bodies.

Question 8
Any other message you would like to communicate?

I have two further comments:

1. To promote the international nature of the ITU, a certain degree of rotation of the countries/areas where the elected officials come from is desirable. Surely, such a rotation should be based on the qualifications of the candidates. By nominating me as a candidate for one of the five posts, China has shown its willingness to contribute to this effort.

2. During the last two decades, China has developed its telecommunication infrastructure with great success: its telecommunication network has become the second largest network in the world and this rapid development continues. China is willing to share its experiences gained with the other developing countries. China has determined to play a more active role in the global telecommunication society and in the United Nations family. I am proud and happy to have been nominated by the Chinese Government as a candidate for the Directorship of TSB. I look forward to the challenge of leading the ITU-T into the next millennium.n

Produced by ITU Press & Public Information Service

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