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StarBulletin.com

APEC meeting a coup for Hawaii


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POSTED: Thursday, November 19, 2009

President Barack Obama's selection of Honolulu as the 2011 host of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation will be a major boost in the state's recovery from the present economic doldrums. The state's political and community leaders realized the opportunity months ago and acted in bipartisan spirit to ensure that Honolulu be chosen over three other U.S. cities.

Honolulu will be the host to leaders of 21 “;member economies”; — not necessarily nations, out of deference to China, because they include Taiwan and Hong Kong — that account for more than 40 percent of the world's population. Created in 1993, APEC has sought to reduce trade barriers across the region. Next year's meeting will be in Yokohama, Japan.

The United States had been scheduled to be the 2011 host for the first time since 1993. The Obama administration was lobbied by Gov. Linda Lingle, Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the state's congressional delegation, East-West Center administrators and the Hawaii Tourism Authority, along with tourism and business leaders.

The fact that Honolulu is Obama's native city had to have helped. He told other leaders that he is “;America's first Pacific president,”; largely due to his early years.

“;I am an American president who was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia as a boy,”; he told a Tokyo audience on his way to the APEC meeting in Singapore. “;My sister Maya was born in Jakarta and later married a Chinese-Canadian.

“;My mother spent nearly a decade working in the villages of Southeast Asia, helping women buy a sewing machine or an education that might give them a foothold in the world economy,”; he added. “;So the Pacific Rim has helped shape my view of the world.”;

Riots broke out in Seattle during a World Trade Organization summit in 1990, and peaceful protests were staged two years later in an Asian Development Bank's annual meeting at the Hawaii Convention Center, but the APEC meeting is not contentious. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the APEC, creating more traffic congestion than controversy.

Hawaii has long sought to gain recognition as the Geneva of the Pacific, and no event could better reflect that potential than the APEC meeting. William Bodde Jr., APEC's first executive director, said Honolulu as the host site makes “;perfect symbolic sense”; because of the islands multiethnic culture and the presence of many experts of the region at the University of Hawaii and East-West Center.

The meeting “;could lead to many new advantages for Hawaii as we develop our relationships with Asian countries in the worldwide community,”; said Marsha Wienert, Gov. Lingle's tourism liaison. Such an event could hardly come at a better time.