NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has decided to lend his name and prestige to a controversial computer project in India.
In a highly publicized news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York today, Ban accepted a complimentary copy of the world’s “cheapest” fully functional computer from India’s U.N. mission.
Dubbed the Aakash (or Sky) 2, the computer is the result of a project intended to bring Internet technology to some of the world’s poorest communities.
At $25 per unit, India’s U.N. delegation proudly showcased the product to diplomats and local press.
In front of television cameras, a bright-eyed Ban Ki-moon held up the computer. Also on hand were India’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri and the CEO of Datawind, Sureep Tuli, the computer’s “manufacturer.”
Ban praised India as a “superpower on the information superhighway.”
“We need to do more to help all the children and young people make the most of the opportunities provided by information and communications technology,” he said.
However, the Indian press insists the computer was nether built nor designed in India.
According to the Hindustan Times and the New York Daily News, the tablet computer is a Chinese-made A-13, which retails off the shelves in Shenzhen and Hong Kong for $42.
The New York Times is reported to have contacted Trend Grace, one of the Chinese manufacturers whose president, Li Junhao, confirmed he sold the computers “fully assembled” to Datawind.
“The tablets we sold to Datawind are ready to be sold. They are finished, ready to be used. All parts are made in China.”
Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong, is also the home to Apple’s operations. The Chinese city is the unofficial capital of most of the nation’s computer manufacturing.
The $25 price point the Indian mission proudly hyped was due to the fact that the education ministry in New Delhi provides a $17 subsidy per unit to school districts throughout the country.
At the briefing, Singh Puri, India’s ambassador, explained it was his idea to hold the product briefing after he saw the unit during a brief visit to New Delhi earlier this year.
“I saw the Aakash 2 when I was in New Delhi, and thought it would be appropriate to bring it to New York during the month when I was Security Council president,” he said.
A visibly disturbed Singh Puri also added it was not “coincidental” that critical press reports only surfaced “days” before the Aakash 2 was to be introduced at the United Nations.
“I am not willing to say there is a conspiracy … you make your own decision,” he said.
“Does Apple not make its computers in China? So where’s the controversy?” he asked.
The difference is that Apple never identifies its computers as American. Its only boast is that its products are designed internally at labs in Cupertino, Calif.
Datawind’s CEO Suneet Tuli did confirm that some parts were made outside India but that “would change.”
“We used parts from many countries around the world, including China, but who doesn’t? In the future more parts will be made in India.”
Strangely, shortly after the U.N. was made aware of the controversy, UNTV, which was airing the news conference live worldwide, cut the feed, shifting the remainder of the event to its webcast portal without notice.
Ban’s spokesman, Eduardo Del Buey, refused any explanation.
Del Buey’s only response was to refer reporters to a transcript of Ban’s earlier comments.
Ironically, a more advanced tablet computer with greater capabilities, from another Chinese company, Iview, was available to U.S. consumers online this week for only $59, complete without any government subsidies.