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The region's aggregate picture
The Foreword to the 2005/06 edition of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific notes that '[w]hile other regions of the world, such as Europe and the Americas, shift progressively towards regional integration, the Asia-Pacific region faces the threat of fragmentation. This challenge is so important that it will continue to be present in the dynamics of development well beyond the Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)' (p. ix). Indeed, if the group of Asia Pacific countries featured in this publication is perceived as a region, one manifestation of the fragmentation can be seen immediately in the latest published figures. There continues to be a massive digital divide within the region as shown by the ICT Opportunity Index for 2005 (Figure 1). Economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, Macau and South Korea are not only at the top of the scale for the region, but also among the top countries worldwide—together with Scandinavian, North American and Western European nations. They help pull the regional average higher than the global. Some countries in Asia Pacific form a second tier, with Brunei and Malaysia above the global average and China, Thailand and the Maldives somewhat behind. At the other extreme, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Laos and Pakistan are at the bottom, both in the region and internationally, together with many African states. Afghanistan has been facing extraordinary circumstances and challenges for some time now, but all the other countries have their own unique stories as well. In any case, the digital gaps in these countries are among the largest in the world.
The magnitude of the gaps among the Asia Pacific economies becomes even more pronounced when we focus on the 'networks' component of the overall ICT Opportunity Index (Figure 2). The divide clearly intensifies, with the top countries achieving higher values and the countries at the bottom assuming lower values. Only minor differences are observed in the composition compared to the overall index, such that Malaysia is now below the global average. This underscores the close relationship between the available ICT infrastructure in the country and the uptake and use of ICTs.