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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unready China Plans to Ride Out Y2K




BEIJING -- Not fully prepared for Y2K, China is accepting that there will be some year-end computer failures, including the risk of office towers shutting down, hospitals doing without advanced surgical equipment and parts of the countryside going black.


China didn't begin work on the year 2000 computer bug in earnest until 13 months ago. So it had no choice but to resort to computer-system triage, focusing money and manpower on critical government agencies, major cities and industries while leaving the rest to fend for themselves.


In a country as vast as China, even the government's top Y2K troubleshooter, Zhang Qi, admits she is not sure how smaller cities are faring, and many businesses have remained blas? despite official pleading to take the threat seriously.


Y2K problems mainly afflict older computers. China is a latecomer to the Information Age so most of its computers are less than five years old.


Only the banking and aviation sectors run the large-scale mainframe computer networks most susceptible to Y2K problems, said Guo Liang, an Internet expert at the government-run China Academy of Social Sciences.


While a relative rarity in a largely rural country where abacuses are often used to check calculators' results, computers run many essential services f and Y2K-related problems have already occurred.


The Public Security Ministry, the national police force, had to destroy thousands of passports it printed in January because their five-year expiration dates read 1904, not 2004, a government web site said.


In the national banking system, computers that passed a nationwide test of the switchover from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 failed when the clocks were moved ahead to check for problems on next year's Leap Day, Feb. 29, the central bank reported.


Similar problems cropped up in Beijing f hotels couldn't make bookings for next year and property leases printed up incorrectly, said Chen Xinxiang, a troubleshooter for the capital's Y2K task force.


In keeping with the country's make-do approach, hospitals in Beijing were ordered to inspect all equipment and mark those suspected of having Y2K problems with a red tag. That equipment may not be used over the sensitive New Year's period and again in late February, Chen said.


"This was done in major hospitals, but we cannot vouch for smaller ones," Chen said.


The national banking system, with deposits worth $1.2 trillion at stake, has been declared a national model of preparedness but has ordered paper records be kept as a backup.


The civil aviation administration ran drills using short-wave radios to contact airplanes in case communications systems at major airports and air traffic control centers fail.


Foreign firms have also complained that the government's unwillingness to release information has hampered their efforts to prepare.