POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 11, 2011
Hawaii's travel industry stands to benefit enormously with the growth of tourism from China, but the exchange of words in this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit shows how things can become stalled. Frictions between the U.S. and China continue to complicate what should become beneficial to both powers.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the East-West Center on Thursday about the need for the two nations to work toward "strong, sustained and balanced future global growth." However, Chinese officials complained on the way to Honolulu of "too ambitious" goals as the Obama administration put forth proposals on environmental policy and a U.S.-led free trade initiative while criticizing China's human rights violations.
Above all, Clinton correctly called for changes to end unfair Chinese policies allowing the yuan to appreciate more rapidly and ending policies that disadvantage or pirate foreign intellectual property.
That is why the Obama administration is seeking a vast Trans-Pacific Partnership, with nine nations in talks for expansion to bring a balance of power in the Asia region.
Bringing Japan into the group, with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S., would leave China on the outside and balance the area. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has called the arrangement a "21st century" agreement that would allow regional trade to flourish.
"We believe that making these changes would provide a stronger foundation for stability and growth — for China and for everyone," Clinton told the East-West Center audience.
Economist Peter A. Petri, a nonresident senior fellow at the center, suggested in a Star-Advertiser column last month that such a scenario has been described as a potential "kind of economy warfare in the region." Eventually, he suggested, an "East Asian Free Trade Agreement" could include both the U.S. and China, generating large benefits.
Mike McCartney, Hawaii Tourism Authority president, looks optimistically toward Chinese tourism in Hawaii growing but has recognized "that there's more to it than just the travel perspective. It's a complex issue that goes way beyond just travel."
Hawaii's travel industry seeks making it easier for Chinese obtaining visas for travel to the United States, but that has become a secondary issue.
Clinton said in her speech that the winding down of war in Iraq and the transition in Afghanistan allows fresh, vigorous U.S. focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
"After a decade in which we invested immense resources in these two theaters," she said, "we have reached a pivot point. We now can redirect some of those investments to opportunities and obligations elsewhere. And Asia stands out as a region where opportunities abound."
President Barack Obama plans to press Chinese President Hu Jintao in Hawaii this weekend to accelerate the yuan's appreciation in response to congressional pressure, while Chinese export growth also faces domestic political pressure.
Clinton was eloquent in explaining how the world's economic center could gravitate into "a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise — in this region."
A strong advancement toward that goal would indeed be a major, positive result of this week's APEC.