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For 50 years, East-West Center has built ties

By David Butts

LAST UPDATED: 12:04 p.m. HST, Dec 24, 2010

Charles Morrison traveled to Beijing this week to help set up an exchange program that will send 15 Chinese high school teachers to the U.S.

Add 15 more pieces to the mosaic of cross-Pacific connections made possible by the East-West Center.

The education and research center in Manoa celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and Morrison, president since 1998, organized the July event. About 800 of the center's 60,000 alumni came together at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

The gathering was a reflection of what the center has accomplished. The ties formed by 60,000 alumni make the Asia-Pacific region more cohesive.

When asked to justify the East-West Center's $33 million annual budget, Morrison points to those individual connections across borders and cultures.

"Imagine if 50 years ago the U.S. started bringing young Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs to a place to study and work together and 60,000 people had gone through the process. Would the Middle East be different today? I think it would."


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Morrison, 66, was also key to Hawaii being selected to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in November, which will include the heads of state from the 21 largest economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

APEC could be a breakthrough event for Hawaii if it leads to the state playing host to similar global meetings in the future, Morrison said in a telephone interview from Beijing.

"We have an agenda to make sure it is not just a single event," Morrison said. He hopes Hawaii will be able to host a major international event—such as the G8 or G20 meetings of world leaders—once every five years or so, as well as smaller business and governmental meetings. "If APEC leads to that, it will have been very successful," he said.

So how did Morrison convince Washington bureaucrats to select Honolulu for APEC instead of a larger city with more resources?

"We argued we would have the best shirts for the leaders," Morrison joked, referring to the custom of APEC leaders posing for a group photo in traditional dress from the host nation. There was some truth to the statement, he added. "Getting people in aloha shirts is conducive to getting business done."

Morrison is from Montana and has lived on Oahu since 1980. He has a doctorate from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and four grown children. He lives with his wife and mother-in-law in Honolulu.

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