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Charles E. Morrison


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POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

The leader of the working group that put together Honolulu's bid for the APEC 2011 Leaders' Meeting saw the long effort as a “;win-win.”;

“;Either we got it and we were happy and a little bit daunted, or we lost it and we were very relieved,”; East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison said with a laugh, exhilarated that the proposal did prevail. “;We had such a great time doing this. Whenever you have such a great team, an esprit de corps, it helps. I just know that now we have a lot of work ahead.”;

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation is the main forum for Asia-Pacific economies to meet on trade and investment issues. The November 2011 event is expected to draw more than 10,000 people to Honolulu, including at least 19 heads of state.

Morrison, who hails from Montana but has lived on Oahu since 1980, has been president since 1998 of the East-West Center, an education and research organization in Manoa devoted to strengthening U.S. ties throughout Asia and the Pacific.

He has a doctorate from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and is a founding member of the U.S. Asia Pacific Council and the U.S. National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation.

The frequent traveler enjoys reading in his limited free time and makes exercise part of his daily routine, walking 10,000 steps a day no matter what. The 65-year-old father of four grown children lives with his wife and mother-in-law in Honolulu.

 

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QUESTION: You were described as Honolulu's APEC bid coordinator. What did you do?

ANSWER: I put together kind of a small working team and I was a conduit, a point of contact, for the information we gathered and disseminated. ... This was at the working-group level.

Q: You've spoken of long-term opportunities for Honolulu because of APEC. What do you foresee?

A: There are some places that have sort of an international conference business, say Geneva. ... The APEC (Leaders' Meeting) is really a major, major event, and what I'm hopeful about is that as we do it right, people will see that Hawaii is a great location for international conferences.

The G-20, which was in Pittsburgh, is something Hawaii could do, for example. The heads of the World Trade Organization and the World Bank also come to APEC. There are opportunities to impress people and to hopefully develop a new line of economic business for Hawaii.

Q: What must go right in order for it to be impressive?

A: The efficiency of the meeting operation is obviously critical, and in that area Honolulu has many advantages.

In Waikiki, we have hotels very densely and compactly located, with the Convention Center fairly nearby. So movement from site to site is easier.

Obviously the security needs to be good. There's never been an APEC meeting that's had any violent protests, but it's certainly something that people who arrange meetings think about. Everybody expects peaceful protests, and that's just fine. ... Then there's the general warmth and welcome of the city that's important. People all over the world know us as a vacation destination; many people just don't know us as a big international conference site. APEC can change that.

Q: How significant (to the selection) was it that President Barack Obama is from Honolulu?

A: I think that was tremendously significant. To bring foreign leaders to your hometown shows great honor. If anything, I was a little concerned that we had to have a better proposal than the competing cities so the president didn't just look like he was doing a favor for his a hometown.

Q: Who decides?

A: Ultimately the decision is made by the president, but the bureaucracy spent about a year looking at proposals. We put together a very detailed bid book. We had a visit by a White House events coordinator. At a certain point I thought it would go to California because of major business and media interests there. But starting about two to three months ago we started to really pick up steam, because everybody said we had a superior bid book, and we started to pick up support from organizations involved with APEC.

Some of the foreign governments I know said that their own leaders were lobbying to come to Hawaii. And, of course, our congressional delegation played a major role. All that was very important.

Q: What factors (in the bid book) put Honolulu ahead?

A: A lot of emphasis has been placed on security, including the physical security of the leaders. You have the military here, you have great existing, secure facilities, and very close at hand. But the other important aspect about security is street crime. Statistically, Honolulu is (much safer) than San Francisco or Los Angeles. I think that was a major aspect, thinking about all those delegates just walking down the street, their basic safety. ... Also, it looked like it was such an easy place to work with, you don't have umpteen small municipal governments that you have to deal with. ... And, of course, the fact that we are truly right in the middle of the Pacific.

Q: With at least 19 foreign leaders attending, there will be lots of protocol questions. Who handles that?

A: The State Department. Even though we are the venue, it's hosted by the White House, the president. So when it comes to protocol, we don't have to worry about that at all. We just have to follow what the State Department tells us, because they are experts in the field. (Honolulu is) hosting this on the behalf of the whole country. This isn't just a Hawaii thing. There will be plenty of help.

Q: Speaking of protocol, President Obama has been criticized for bowing to the Japanese emperor last week in Tokyo. What did you think of that?

A: I think that President Obama was properly advised to show respect for the emperor and empress, and he performed (the bow) perfectly ... I think almost any individual American would have done the same thing.

Q: What about the criticism that he made the United States look weak?

A: Not at all, that's ridiculous. He simply extended a courtesy, politeness, and showed the United States at its best, not being weak. You do what's culturally appropriate for the setting, as a person, an individual, meeting another person. That was an individual thing and did not signify at all that the whole United States was bowing to the emperor, or convey any sign of weakness.

Q: Getting back to APEC, is there financial risk for the city or state?

A: No, I don't think so. The federal government will have a budget and we'll have to look it over very closely and make sure it's adequate, and if there's any question, we'll go to our congressional delegation. Some of them are very highly placed to help us out if necessary.

Q: What about any other impacts?

A: Some people are concerned about traffic tie-ups. Obviously there might be a few disruptions, but the leaders' part of it is only two days. That's when there would be the biggest need for security that affects traffic. If we let these kinds of things worry us too much, we would never have marathons in Hawaii either.

Q: How much does Hawaii stand to gain, financially?

A: I would say the economic impact should be quite large. The estimate of 10,000 people seems a little on the low side to me. From the tourism point of view, this is a “;quality crowd.”; Besides all the people actually attending the meetings, there will be other spending that is a little more indirect. International media, for example, that come to cover it. I think we can expect a pretty big impact.