Amid the frenzy of deal-making between bankers, planners and government officials, Gov. Ben Cayetano delivered his sales pitch to more than a thousand delegates at the Asian Development Bank's 34th annual board of governors meeting.
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Flanked by U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and ADB President Tadao Chino, Cayetano extolled the virtues of a state long considered hostile to business to a group that attracts controversy wherever it goes.
"Yes, Hawaii is a great place for fun and recreation -- but it is also a good place to do serious business as well," Cayetano said in his opening remarks at the Hawai'i Convention Center yesterday.
"Hawaii is much more than sand, surf and sunshine."
For his part, Treasury Secretary O'Neill, who is heading the three-day meeting, said he believes that Asia's economies are already on the mend, calling the 1997 Asian financial meltdown "a temporary setback in one of the amazing success stories in economic history."
He also said the U.S. economy will rebound from its current slump, and expressed confidence that the Bush administration's plan to reduce taxes combined with the Federal Reserves' recent interest rate cuts will stimulate growth.
"I think the monetary policy actions and fiscal policy actions are the correct intervention at the moment," O'Neill said.
O'Neill also called on Japan's new Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to "take the steps needed to trigger an enduring recovery" after a decade-long slump in the world's second-largest economy.
"It is important for Japan, after 10 years of sluggish growth, to achieve strong, stable growth," O'Neill said.
"A healthy global economy requires all of us to perform to our full potential, and at the moment, all of the major economies are operating below their long-term potential."
Meanwhile, ADB President Chino told delegates that while Asian economies had slowed, fears of a renewed financial crisis of the kind that swept through the region in recent years were exaggerated.
"Asian economies have become much more resilient," he said. "We believe the downside risks are manageable."
The Manila-based ADB is a 59-nation organization that lends money and provides technical expertise to developing Asian countries.
The group's annual meeting this week is a high point of Cayetano's dream of transforming Hawaii into a "Geneva of the Pacific," in which multilateral economic institutions like the ADB or the World Trade Organization could meet, discuss policy and do business with relatively little disruption.
Hawaii's image as a peaceful place has been a key selling point in Cayetano's plan, as similar meetings in Seattle, Quebec, Thailand and Davos, Switzerland, attracted thousands of protesters and resulted in violent confrontations.
"Demonstrations and riots, which disrupted the WTO in Seattle and the conferences in Quebec and Davos, will not happen here," Cayetano said.
Minutes after Cayetano's speech, hundreds of anti-globalization activists -- far fewer than the 5,000 initially forecasted by organizers -- marched through town and stopped in front of the convention center to protest the ADB's policies as scores of law enforcement officials looked on.
While the protest was loud at times, it was relatively peaceful and did not disrupt the ADB's activities in the convention center.
Opening-day ceremonies were also highlighted by a letter from President George W. Bush, who stressed his administration's commitment to the ADB.
"The Asian Development Bank continues to be a vital catalyst in promoting economic growth, creating jobs and raising living standards in some of the world's most dynamic economies," Bush said.
"Although the past few years have posed challenges to the region, my administration has the utmost faith that continued reforms and hard work will ensure that growth and prosperity will continue."
Asian Development Bank