Hawaii is said to have hit a home run at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference held in Honolulu for 21 world leaders. If this is true, the question is: Will we be able to see the difference in Hawaii’s future?
I tried to gather proof of this by talking to as many people as possible, including a key member of the national APEC committee. This person told me that APEC and the U.S. State Department genuinely believe Hawaii did a superb job. Hawaii was thrown a number of curve balls amid very trying circumstances, and the Hawaii Host Committee was said to have just rolled with the punches, kept smiling, and showed that the aloha spirit could stand the test of pressure.
I was also told by a key official that Hawaii performed so well that we were asked to send a contingent to Chicago to help plan its upcoming G-8 Summit of world leaders in May 2012. The Honolulu Police Department’s not making a single arrest of an APEC protester might also have gotten Chicago’s attention (and neighborhood crime also went down during APEC).
While I was not privy to the stratospheric sessions of the 21 country leaders, I did have the opportunity to meet with a president, a prime minister and two ambassadors.
I believe my meeting with the president of Indonesia and the Indonesian ambassador to the U.S. will result in a better future for Hawaii because we reached an almost immediate consensus that Hawaii and Bali, as the two best world-class destinations on Earth, should increase ties through forging a sister-state relationship in 2012. A group of Indonesians are already planning a return visit to Hawaii.
I had an additional opportunity to attend a dinner with the prime minister of Malaysia who was honoring former Peace Corps volunteers from Hawaii who had served in his country. I am now working with the Malaysian ambassador and his local honorary consul general, former Gov. John Waihee, to encourage more cooperation and trade between Hawaii and Malaysia, and this should make a difference starting in 2012.
Some of us in the Legislature would also like to see the reactivation of the Office of International Relations to keep APEC accomplishments moving forward.
Lastly, I will never forget the evening I accompanied a contingent of the huge China delegation for introductions to our local business and political leaders. Some were heads of airlines or banks and all were very interested to return to Hawaii to discuss business opportunities. They all knew the future of Hawaii was the Chinese visitor, now the biggest spender in Waikiki, and the image they had of Hawaii was magical and the affinity they felt for us was quite astounding.
The bottom line of my APEC experience was that Hawaii was not only successful because of our natural beauty but also because of the soft power of our culture and ambiance of our people.
The charm offensive I witnessed at APEC will have ripples long into the future, but Hawaii must watch over what it thinks about itself after APEC. We have a tendency to low-ball our potential. Even when we succeed like, we can engender a “fear of success” — so when others say we hit a home run, in our hearts we don’t believe it, or feel we don’t deserve it.
So how we think of ourselves from now on is critically important. As U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye remarked at an APEC meeting, “We need to brag about our successes in Hawaii.” After all, we do have the best bank in the nation (Bank of Hawaii); the best “on-time airline” in the nation (Hawaiian Airlines); we’re the national leader in renewable energy; have the largest solar telescope in the world; serve as home of the Pacific Command responsible for the security of over 60 percent of the globe; have Pearl Harbor, the biggest shipyard in the U.S.; are home to one of only two missile ranges in the nation (Barking Sands on Kauai); and grow 80 percent of the world’s seed corn in our soil.
And now we’re an APEC-savvy, APEC-tested, world-class gathering place and epicenter for diplomacy and serious business for world leaders. So let’s not sell Hawaii short, and that will make a huge difference in Hawaii’s future.