Japanese Co-operative Activities for Asian Region in Area of IT Standardization

Takayuki K. SATO (1)
Chief Researcher, R&D Division,
Center of International Cooperation for the Computerization (CICC)

(1) CICC, Mita 43 Mori Building 15F, 3-13-16 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0073; Fax: 03-3457-0944; E-Mail: sato@net.cicc.or.jp; http://www.cicc.or.jp The paper was delivered at the University of Tokyo Library on Friday October 22nd, and at the Kyoto University Library on Monday October 25th, 1999.

1 Paradigm shift of international standardization in Asia
3 Activities of Japan and needs of cooperative activities
4 Approach of Japan and AFSIT
5 Brief summary of the projects (SIG, MLIT and AHTS-1)
5.1 SIG
5.2 The MLIT project
5.2.1 Brief MLIT history and MLIT-4
5.3 Challenges of MLIT
5.4 MLIT-4
5.5 After MLIT-4/AFSIT-13
6 Standardization seminar (AHTS-1)
7 Conclusion

This report describes one of the Asian wide cooperative activities of Japan, which relates with international standardization of Information Technology (IT).

1 Paradigm shift of international standardization in Asia

First of all, it is necessary to explain why cooperation between Asian countries is needed. IT, by definition, is an advanced technology. And the standardization of the technology has been done by the researchers, institutes and enterprises which involve the development of the advanced technology. Even though it looked as country or region bases activity, the reality has not been such.

The activities have aimed to maintain consistency among the various solutions or even to maintain the innovators gain by the enterprise. In another word, the standard has been sometimes used as a tool to maintain an hegemony of technology leaders as a reality.

The environmental for the standard development has been set to meet for the reality as a matter of fact.

As a reality, in IT standardization area, the activity has been like a "club of highly industrialized countries". Most of Asian countries has been a follower (and just a user) of the resultant international standards. And even sometimes a standard has been seen as one of the most economical methods to get advanced technologies transferred.

Under those views, there have been a limited number of countries which have a strong motivation to participate the international standardization activities. Most of the Asian countries have been satisfied the status of user of the resultant international standards and/or buyer of the products conforming the international standards. In another word, in most of cases, they have been a "free rider" of the international standards.

For the most of Asian countries, there has been no need for them to participate the standardization activities of the IT, and that has been good enough for them. Therefore, there have been low interest and involvement of those countries to the international standardization activities of IT.

Since middle of 70's, a worldwide shift toward IT in "native culture and language" form "American English" has started. In parallel with that, from the beginning of 80's, shift from large main frame computer to PC has happened almost like avalanche. In particular, PC is used for wider application than that of main flame computer at affordable price, for under development countries where the mainframe was used for very limited purpose (thus in English), there are a strong needs and requirements of IT (using PC) in each "native culture and languages".

To supply IT solutions for all necessary application domain in "native culture and languages" in stable, timely and reasonable costs, it is necessary to make cultural/linguistic requirements visible to worldwide in a form of clearly understandable, consistent and no ambiguity. Thus, in a form of international standard, regardless the country/region has the advanced technology or not.

Asian countries, where have been the outsider of the international standardization activities, are not an exception of this trend. For those Asian countries, because the cultural and linguistic requirements are their own, are requested to define their own requirements by themselves. No one else beside the country can define the requirements for them, thus, all of sudden, those countries are forced to involve the related advanced technology in certain degree (unless, nothing given). This is huge paradigm shift for both those countries and International Standards Development Organization (ISDO).

In case of conventional technology, there are the proceeding "model" in developed countries, there is a limitation, however, to apply a "Western model" for the Asian cultural issues. It is necessary to start with a " model setting" for their own by themselves. By some reasons, whatever if it is reasonable and right, if there is no response to the request of international society, those country/region would be a new type of looser of the forth coming network world in both culturally and economically sense.

This fact might be big surprise for those countries, even so, countries which recognize the reality are lucky. There are some countries which are not recognize this reality yet. This would be a sad story for both peoples in and outside of the country/region.

In summary, for utilization of information technology, a local culture adaptation onto the internationalized IT solution is necessary. To make it available, disclosure of the requirements of each country/region/sector is an essential needs. If not, those country/region/sector would be left in pre-information age. And a traditional "sit and wait" practice does not work for them. It is necessary to organize the requirements and disclose them to the world by the owner of the culture, which may be country in most of case, by themselves.



Changing a subject, it would be better to discuss about the "INTRENATIONALIZATION (I18N)" of information technology briefly for better understanding of this report.

Following are minimum requirements to adapt IT for each cultural requirement.

It is important to write a program to meet above conditions from the scratch, but it is far more important for the users that the same application program conforms to the above condition world-widely for any cultural and/or linguistic requirements.

In another word, the unique to the culture program with independent local PC is not a goal. It is necessary that one single application program is supplied in any culture/language at the almost same timing and in reasonable cost.

To meet the objective, the I18N technology is far beyond the simple character and cultural convention support. The character and cultural convention issue is very small, though it is still fundamental, piece of I18N technology. Input and Out put of the foreign characters is well established technology already, the key topics of the internationalization today is "how to supply exact same application program in different cultures and languages at the same time and at almost same price?"

Under one common specification, once making a "vacant to cultural/linguistic data" systems and application program, it would be a neutral to any culture/language. The "culturally blank" system is called as INTRENATIONALIZED (I18N) system. And to adapt for any selected culture/language through a filling process of the vacancy by the cultural/linguistic data in uniform and agreed upon specification is called LOCALIZATION (L10N).

Meeting the internationalization objective is only possible when adaptation to the cultures through common to any culture/language process is done using above process. This is called as internationalization.

Under above condition, each country are not necessary to develop unique to each information technology. Rather than that, each country are required to disclose their own data to fill the vacancy to the out side the country.

The data to fill the vacancy needs to be in a form of the world-widely agreed specification. Descriptive explanation of uniqueness of the culture does not work for the purpose, sometimes, it is causing another misunderstanding and confusions of the user of the data.

Each country are required to understand the internationally agreed specification, and to disclose the requirement per the specification which no outsider can do it for the country. This is what the I18N request for each country and nothing more than that.

The internationalization is not a new development of system which adapted to specific culture. In many cases, those unique to the culture solution are against the internationalization.

For more information about the internationalization of the information technology, refer to the ISO/IEC TR 11017 "Framework for Internationalization of Information Technology".
Back to the main topics, about the actions against the paradigm shift ...


3 Activities of Japan and needs of cooperative activities

Japan is not an exception of the shift, Japan started a publication of the national standards for Japanization and a couple of defact-standards are accepted by market. It looked that the road to support Japanese culture and language is established at that time. Also, once JIS X 0208: 1978 (JIS C-6226 at that time) "Japanese coded character set" was published, the technology was transferred to all ideograph that using countries under technology cooperation program, and national coded character set such as GB-2312 for China was developed.

Also, in other Asian countries, IT engineer of the country, institutions, students studying in US or immigrant engineer to the US have developed PC solutions to support each culture. Some of the solution are widely used in the country, some of them could not get any attention in the market. As matter of fact, the quick and dirty solutions are making a transition to next generation system difficult. For example, unique to Japan Japanese solution is so unique, thus it is called as "just Japanization" in bad meaning. It is very hard to up-grade the existing solution to meet with the requirements of today and future.

However, since early 90's, the network got wide spread, and application got broader than expectation like a burst. It has become difficult to respond fully to the widening and broadening requirements of the users by having "quick and dirty hit on" and independently unique to each other solutions of each cases.

Local systems developed by above practice do have one more issue. Because most of project teams understand the cultural back ground only from the surface, real in depth cultural adaptation and/or adaptation of foreign culture were not done well enough. Japanese case has not been an exception. Hit on solutions have been provided each time when new requirements were gotten visible, the addition of the ad-hoc solution included a possibility of invitation of new issues or a possibility of difficulty for resolving a problem found in next. This is a possibility of unfavorable cycle of the problems.

Under a practice of the "aiming moving target" above, it is difficult to develop and disclose a stable requirement. It is necessary to have cooperative activities among Asian countries where there is some degree of common cultural foundation. By mean of that, instead of disclosing unique to each other, a stable requirements which are harmonized each other based on mutual understanding of each culture, should be disclosed. The harmonized requirements should be developed through cooperative activities including the countries which are not yet recognizing the situation.


4 Approach of Japan and AFSIT

Japan also recognizes the needs of an advanced approach which is one step ahead of the past narrow-sighted one shot approach. It should not be like a case of technology assistance program based on Japanization and Kanji JIS. It should be much more cooperative and bi-directional between each participants.

At the mid-80's and after, with the completion of the first generation of Japanese language systems, it has been recognized that there is a strong needs which is common to Asian solutions. The solution shall be made available through discussion among related Asian countries, and also recognized a needs of cooperative action in development stage of an international standard.

To challenge the above needs, under guidance of Ministry of International Trade and Industry (AIST-MITI), Center of International Cooperation for Computerization (CICC) established the Asian Forum for the Standardization of Information Technology (AFSIT).

The first forum was held in Tokyo Japan in September 1987. Following that it was held almost every once a year, and in October 1999, the 13th forum is scheduled at Yangon, Myanmar.

The member countries at the first forum were China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand (11 countries/region). Then after, Mongol, Myanmar and Vietnam has been joined as a regular member, and Laos and Nepal are an observer members and some more addition such as Cambodia and Pakistan are being expected (total 16 country/region and more).

A representative of each member for the forum were mixture of governmental officers, researchers from institution, NGOs and IT specialists. Since after Cheju Island (Korea) meeting in 1996, the 10th AFSIT, it is shifting gradually its membership and nature to an annual meeting of government representatives who are in charge of standardization of information technology.

There are two key agenda items of each form. One is the hot topics of the year and another is a status report of each member countries (what's new this year?). At the first forum, it was "Coded Character Sets of each country" and at the AFSIT-12 in Hanoi Vietnam was "Construction of GII/GIS." At up-coming Yangon meeting, "IT Education and Certification of IT engineer" will be discussed. For detail of the AFSIT, Prof. Naito of NACSIS-Japan is the best reference.

At the beginning, the forum was, primary, for information exchange and "get to know each other" type meetings. It was recognized that there was a needs for something new for the break through to the next stage.

In AFSIT-6 in KL, Malaysia, it was agreed, in parallel with regular AFSIT, that to add some kind of activities which might provide real visible output of the meeting.

From 1993 to 1995, AFSIT expert meeting for the internationalization of IT (Special Interest Group SIG) was formed. The SIG published a databook about "Cultural convention of Asian countries". The data is needed essentially for Asian localization of IT.

In 1997, Multi Lingual Information Technology (MLIT project) was opened aiming a goal on March 2000, and is tackling to an issue of "coded character set in common principle" for Asian scripts(3).

And In March 1999, Training seminar for the international standardization of IT (AHTS-1) was held. All of those are an activity of experts, this is one of the reason why AFSIT itself is shifting toward governmental forum.

As described above, the cooperative activities between Asian countries are performed through combination of two types of meetings. One is AFSIT which is a forum of government representatives, and topics there are mainly Policy, Strategy and Information exchange. And another is real problem solving activities with focused experts which aiming real visible output such as SIG and MLIT.

The relation of those two types of activities is almost like a pair of wheels of a vehicle. Forum, which focused on mostly strategic issue and information exchange like AFSIT, can not provide any real visible out come to leverage. A project alone (like MLIT or SIG) without strategic background may loose a direction, then, resultant contribution for Asian countries as an harmonized requirements might be low.

(3) http://www.cicc.or.jp/homepage/afsit/index.html
http:// www.cicc.or.jp/homepage/mlit/index.html


5 Brief summary of the projects (SIG, MLIT and AHTS-1)

5.1 SIG
AFSIT-SIG was a project from Feb. 1993 to Nov. 1995 under participation of 11 countries of AFSIT members. It held 4 meetings at 2-3 days each meeting.

Repeating the condition that following are minimum requirements to adapt IT for each cultural requirements.

Among the requirements, script (character) issue is so visible and many peoples are challenging the issue. Thus, as the first actions, the AFIST-SIG challenged for the "cultural convention".

The SIG did survey, analyze and compile the requirements. The resultants, a "Data Book of Cultural Convention in Asian Countries", was published in April 199 by CICC. And it is on a web site of CICC.4

In the past, many challengers for the internationalization of IT tried to attack two topics at the same time which are script issue and cultural convention issue. Most of them were "sick and tired" to collect country data besides the technical issues. The data is opened as a result of the SIG to any person, people now are able to concentrate on the technical topics which is the "script" issue.

The cultural conventions in the Data Book are 26 items:

Date format, Time format, Calendar, Number format, Number rounding, Monetary amount expression, Word Representation of numbers, Hyphenation of word, ICON and Symbols, Character size and Spacing, Preferred Font Style, Character attribute, Paper size, Paper margin, Page Layout, Business letter format, Personal letter format, Postal address format, Telephone number format, Measurement systems, Legal and Regulatory requirements, Message and Dialogue, Person's name, Color usage and significance and Taboo items

Data is available for the country:

China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

The accomplishment of the SIG was huge. It was not only a collection of data described above, it was a proof that cooperation of Asian countries are possible and making sense. The result provides the AFSIT another room to consider, and it leaded AFSIT to the MLIT project.


5.2 The MLIT project
Under the umbrella of AFSIT, the MLIT project was established as a 2nd project which aims at the real out come. The project is under the slogan of "Equal Language Opportunity". Technical goal of MLIT is "to maintain data inter-operability" not only for bi-lingual systems with English but any languages when world network with multiple language solution systems is available. And MLIT is focusing on the coded character sets and font issues questioning that if current coded character sets of each country do meet the objective or not.

The challenge has been, then, to establish common guidelines for development of coded character sets to meet the goal and to formulate a proposal of font attribute to support Asian needs.

This is based on another understanding that this issue is specially important (and issue is not resolved yet) for South East Asian countries where the syllabic (and so called implementation level-2 in ISO/IEC 10646) characters are used.

MLIT is challenging for the unavoidable key issue of the internationalization, which was bypassed at the time of the SIG.


5.2.1 Brief MLIT history and MLIT-4
MLIT-97, the first MLIT symposium, was held in May 1997 in Singapore, then MLIT-2 in November same year in Tokyo, Japan, MLIT-3 in October 1998 in Hanoi Vietnam and coming MLIT, MLIT-4, is the fourth and first key milestone MLIT.

Accumulated participants are; Brunei, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongol, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, TCA (Taipei), Thailand, Vietnam and two guests from EC (19 total). The number of the participants is larger than that of AFSIT because this is an expert meeting thus the restrictions for the participant are less than that of the AFSIT.

At the MLIT-97 and MLIT-2, the objective was to find out facts and issues and to create mutual understanding. For that purpose, there was demonstration of real working systems of each member country, and by mean of the demonstration and many of free discussions, all members have better understanding of the situation and could share the common concerns.

At the MLIT-3, there was a reconfirmation of the survey results up to date, and project proposals to resolve the issues were presented. The resultant agreement of the MLIT-3 was reported to AFSIT-12 and got endorsed by the AFSIT.

At coming MLIT-4 at the 27 of October 1999, there will be a presentations with follow on discussion about the status and proposed direction of the WG activities which were approved at MLIT-3.

Discussion result will be reported to AFSIT-13 starting October 29, and with endorsement of the report and proposal by the AFSIT, MLIT program will proceed toward the preparation of "Proposal of International Standards" phase aiming a submission of the proposal at March 2000 for ISO/IEC JTC1.


5.3 Challenges of MLIT
At the closing time of MLIT-2, there was a confirmation of following three challenges.

At the MLIT-3, the third MLIT symposium, one more challenge has been recognized in addition to the project plan to tackle the challenge which were agreed at the MLIT-2.


5.4 MLIT-4
About the 4 challenges defined at MLIT-3, following reports and proposals are expected at coming MLIT-4.


5.5 After MLIT-4/AFSIT-13
Expectation is to obtain an endorsement of AFSIT for following MLIT activities.

Note: The accomplishments already done for the missing characters are; currency signs in Asia and Myanmar, Khmer, Mongol Viet-Thai, Nepal, Shinhara, Thaana and Philippino scripts. And Laos and Bangladesh are under preparation. Addition to related to above countries, there are a countries where the Asian unification is under survey, the MLIT project is covering almost all Asian countries.

From long range view, the base recognition is that the fundamental issue of an independent character issue is resolved at MLIT-4 (at least, direction is set). The next challenge might be an Asian cultural requirements issue of string of the independent characters, it means a texts, documents and information.


6 Standardization seminar (AHTS-1)

Through MLIT activities, it has been recognized that almost all the member countries are not familiar with the international standard development process because of lack of needs and, thus, lack of experience, i.e. what and how to submit a proposal to International Standards Development Organization (such as ISO ISDO), how to discuss in the review process of ISDO. The necessity of understanding the real life of the international standardization activities is on the surface.

Information Technology Seminar (AHTS-1) was held on March 1999 as a program under Japan Standard Association (JSA). Participants for the 8 days seminar were one each from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thai, Malaysia, Myanmar and Nepal.

The seminar opened a presentation why international standards are necessary, then ISO and JTC1 procedures (directives and many others) and a tips about real international meeting. The seminar ended as a guest participation for the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC2 WG2 meeting at Fukuoka Japan.

The seminar, not only on the paper, theory and principle, but with real life tips and experiences, was very successful and was accepted well by the participants.

This is quite natural. Up until now, the most of Asian countries were not a member of the ISDO. They did mostly not participate the international discussion and just use the resultant international standards. Thus, there has been no need to be familiar with ISDO processes. However, things has been changing, it is necessary to be familiar with the process to disclose the cultural dependent needs and requirements.

Real life development process of international standards is beyond the description on the paper of the directives and procedures. It is important to know and to get familiar with the real life. Thus, needs of this kind of seminar (as a follow on activity of ASFIT-SIG and MLIT) would be higher in future for the most of Asian countries. It would be a goal that, as a result of the seminar in future, more Asians are showing up to the ISDO meeting and cooperating each other.


7 Conclusion

There was a discussion that:

It would be better, as a conclusion, to list of the reasons of success that the secretariat of the project is believing in:

Even though above is a list of good stories, but it is the concern that whether if the program can continue to provide an attractive topics and if keep attracting the top ranked resources of the countries or not.