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International telecommunications

Analysing telecommunications interactions between world cities presents a problem. The most comprehensive set of data is contained in the International Telecommunication Union's statistical yearbook (ITU, 1988). Since 1973, it has provided a complete set of telecommunications parameters and economic data for the 180 member countries of the International Telegraphic Union (ITU) (Luhan, 1989). It has collected data on various branches of common carrier telecommunications - telephone, telegram, telex, and data transmission. This source provides a guide to the size of telecommunications systems, traffic, and staff, and distinguishes between domestic and international traffic. Apart from showing that the world's highest growth occurred in Pacific Asia, an analysis of international traffic does not provide any information on interactions between countries, let alone world cities.

There are no comparable statistics to those produced by the United States' Federal Communications Commission showing international message telephone services and telegraph and telex services between the continental United States and overseas countries. Evidence from Japan shows that the most common medium for corporate communications with the rest of Asia is facsimile, followed by the telephone and the telex (MPT, 1988). Telex use relative to facsimile use has been comparatively high because the telephone network between Japan and the rest of Asia has not been as well developed as that between Europe and North America. Greater use of the telephone has been encouraged by the small distance between Japan and the rest of Asia.

The most useful sources for studying Pacific Asia's telecommunications are publications from the International Institute of Communications (Staple and Mullins, 1989; Staple, 1990). They trace telecommunications traffic to and from 16 countries, including Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. Although China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia are excluded, figures are provided for them when major telecommunication correspondents are given for the selected countries. As no information is provided on linkages and interactions between world cities, these country data have to suffice as a guide to Pacific Asia's "telegeography. "

International "telegeography"

When the traffic patterns for public voice circuits measured in MITT (Minutes of Telecommunications Traffic) are mapped for the fiscal year 1988 (April 1988 - March 1989), three economies feature as key "sources" - Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore - and one - Taiwan as a major "sink" (fig. 3.13). The position of Japan - a "junction state" for South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong - reflected its marked growth in outbound traffic since the late 1980s. Hong Kong, a net exporter to Taiwan and telecommunications entrepôt for China, directed almost one-third of its outbound traffic to the mainland. China's market increased annually during the mid-1980s at between 40 and 50 per cent and propelled its Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications into the "top 25" international carriers in 1988, albeit in last place.2 Singapore has dominant connections with Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The lesser prominence of Taiwan, as of South Korea, has stemmed from reluctance to open home markets to external competitive pressures, which are guaranteed to boost international traffic.3 Although Thailand, like Indonesia, has pretensions to being a key telecommunications player, its traffic is much smaller than that of other Pacific Asia counterparts.4

Paradoxically, Thailand (60 per cent) is more heavily dependent on telecommunications correspondents within Pacific Asia than are other economies. Taiwan (57 per cent), Hong Kong, and Singapore (54 per cent each) are the next most dependent on Pacific Asia markets, followed by South Korea (39 per cent) and Japan (37 per cent). This dependence is likely to increase with the region's continued economic expansion, fuelled by intra-Pacific Asia investment and tourism. Within the region it will be reflected in the growth in facsimile traffic, increased per capita flow of outbound traffic, and the progressive switch from outgoing international letters to international telephone calls and facsimiles.5


An analysis of the data on linkages and interactions between world cities has highlighted the marked dynamism in Pacific Asia since the early 1980s. It has pinpointed the intensification of transport and communications networks. Initially, there was a concentration on emerging world cities in East Asia, but the spread of capital to South-East Asia has seen the deepening of networks to incorporate its world city aspirants more fully. This is reflected in their increased percentage of air cargo. Conversely, East Asia's world cities have boosted their share of air passengers to redress the balance enjoyed by their South-East Asian counterparts in proportion to their total population.

Fig. 3.13 Telecommunications between countries in Pacific Asia, 1988 (Source: based on Staple, 1990)

All world cities, with the exception of Beijing and Shanghai, have recorded marked overall growth in transport and communications. There have been, however, considerable differences depending on the particular yardstick. Leads and lags have occurred. Some world cities have grown more rapidly than others. Seoul and, to a lesser extent, Jakarta, for example, have experienced faster rates of relative growth than have other world cities in all transport and communications sectors, whereas Manila has been dogged by slower rates across the board. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan have failed to keep pace in air cargo and air passengers. Some world cities have grown in particular sectors. For instance, Singapore and, to a lesser extent, Kuala Lumpur and Osaka have improved their positions as generators of air cargo. Conversely, Bangkok and Tokyo have boosted their share of air passengers.

As this fluidity is likely to continue, interpretation is problematical. If there is too much disaggregation there is a real danger of being overwhelmed by a plethora of different variables. These range from the hoary favourites of population and distance to strategic alliances following the globalization of transport and communications activities and the development of logistic network strategies. Given these developments, a Pacific Asia focus is fraught with problems, as the relative status of world cities hinges as much on their external relations with the European and North American blocs as on intra-regional forces.

These considerations are reflected in figure 3.14, which shows the "power" relationships between Pacific Asia's world cities based on transport and communications interactions. Tokyo is the pivot of both external and internal connections. Not only does it have strong linkages with the pivots of the European and North American blocs, but it is the junction for the emerging world cities serving the newly industrializing economies - Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Seoul. Part of Singapore's strength is drawn from being the junction for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta. Hong Kong fulfils a similar role for Manila. At present, it is difficult to tie Beijing and Shanghai into the emerging system of world cities as this study has underlined the tenuous nature of their international connections.

Looking ahead, all forecasts show that growth rates for transport and communications flows in Pacific Asia will be above world averages. The logical extension of this pattern of development is to recognize that linkages and interaction between Pacific Asia's world cities will create development corridors - areas of intense short-distance movement (cf. Ginsburg et al., 1991). This phenomenon has already occurred with the emergence of the Japan Development Corridor from Sapporo to Kita Kyushu. Two new entities are emerging - an East Asian Development Corridor stretching from Pusan to Hong Kong and the South-East Asian Development Corridor running from Chiang Mai to Bali. These are likely to spread, with the addition of Vladivostok and Hanoi to the East Asian Development Corridor and of Ho Chi Minh City to the South-East Asian Development Corridor. Inevitably, new transport and communications superhubs will have to seek locations outside these corridors.

Fig. 3.14 "Power" relationships between Pacific Asia's emerging world in transport and telecommunications, 1992


The research assistance afforded by Barbara Banks and Christine Tabart is much appreciated. The maps were drawn by Nigel Duffey, Cartographic Unit, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia.


1. Scheduling, under the conventional practice of carrying goods from the airport or seaport to the factory and distribution to clients, has become difficult to maintain. In April 1991, Japan IBM introduced a "Comprehensive Plan for Company Distribution" (Kaisha Sogo Butsuryu) in an effort to overcome this problem (Nikkei, 26 September 1991). A Systems Package Centre (SPC) comprising a cluster of warehouses has been developed in Tokyo and Osaka to store parts carried by ship from factories in the United States. In accordance with the specifications established by clients, the parts are marshalled on an assembly line in the SPC prior to delivery by truck. This new system has enabled US producers to switch from air to sea freight and has reduced the inventories at local factories.

2. Other Pacific Asia-based international carriers among the world's top 25, according to Staple (1990:16), included Japan's KDD or Kokusai Denshin Denwa (ranked 10th) and Taiwan's DGT (ranked 24th). By the mid-1990s, China's Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications became a major international power. By 1990, outgoing traffic from both Hong Kong and China was over 500 million MiTT - almost two-thirds of Japan's outgoing traffic. Major international communications ports are located in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

3. Liberalization of South Korea's closely regulated and structured market was planned for 1992.

4. In 1991, there were 300,000 subscribers in Jakarta out of 1.5 million lines in Indonesia. Only 14 per cent of subscribers had access to international line traffic.

5. As noted by Staple (1990:45-46), 0.15 per cent of Japan's traffic in 1988-1989 was international, compared with 1 per cent for the United States and 2 per cent for the United Kingdom. In 1988, Japan's ratio of international letters to telephone calls was 2:1, whereas the latter exceeded the former for the first time in the United States. This situation is likely to change in Japan with the introduction of language translation services.


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