Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, October 15, 1997

Hawaii neglecting
Chinese opportunities

PLANS are going on now in Beijing for Chinese President Jiang Zemin's Oct. 26 trip to the United States. Jiang's country calls the trip "very important" for bilateral ties. Here in Hawaii, we are still waiting to see how that translates.

On the level of pure face-saving status, Jiang's precise travel plans are important. Initial reports have him attending memorial services at Pearl Harbor.

In terms of diplomatic accomplishments, the stop would be little more than a photo op. It is better than a fly-by and worse than a request to book the convention center.

What is happening, however, is that Hawaii again has a window seat on the next great thing, and there are no serious plans to figure out how to get invited in.

China is building to an economic explosion that is sure to rewrite Pacific basin history.

If the old question was "Where were you when we lost China?" the question for states during the millennium must certainly be "Where were you when the China gusher came in?"

Mayor Jeremy Harris is leading a 100-person trade mission to China right now; Gov. Ben Cayetano was there about a year ago doing the same.

No real effort, however, has been expended by either the city or the state to move decisively toward China.

Of course, Harris and Cayetano carry none of the clout compared to Washington's Gov. Gary Locke, who just concluded a successful 12-day trade mission.

Locke met Jiang, who expressed his pride in the young politician's election as the United States' first Chinese-American governor.

Locke took with him representatives from agriculture, education, business and telecommunications.

High-ranking Chinese provincial officials, Locke reported, are looking to Washington state products to help make "substantial improvements in their medical infrastructure."

The officials said "price was not an object," Locke reported in a Seattle Times account of the trip.

Today China is home to one-fifth of the Earth's population. The number is too large for many in Hawaii to comprehend.

Officials here do not see how the number of consumers, customers and potential new clients could translate for Hawaii's moribund economy.

For those who think China cannot afford to travel, remember that China's national flag carrier, Air China, is planning to list shares on stock exchanges at home and abroad.

Where once there was Pan Am and JAL, soon the world's international airports will be hot spots for Air China.

HERE in Hawaii, however, businessmen tell me that when they look to the state for help with Chinese trade, the response is either "Huh?" or most frequently an unreturned phone call.

Some public schools offer classes in Mandarin, but how much attention and encouragement does it get? How many local firms are thinking about what Chinese tourists would want? How many local firms could even handle a Chinese travel group?

Hawaii's great advantage is its young, multicultural, multilingual students who will be able to do business, practice medicine and communicate with the new China.

Ironically, at the same time that we are the most Asian of the 50 states, we may be one of the poorest prepared for the century of China and the Pacific.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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