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State tries to charm China

The APEC meeting's opportunities have Hawaii leaders gazing east

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 6:54 p.m. HST, Oct 20, 2011

Hawaii's state, city and business leaders are aggressively courting China in the months leading up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting to give its leaders the message that the isles are open for business and travel and that local experts have clean energy and scientific knowledge to share.

The APEC meetings will garner global media attention when its 21 member economies come to Honolulu Nov. 7-13; however, it's China's eye that Hawaii leaders most want to catch.

"Obviously, we have an incredibly strong relationship with Japan and the Philippines, but we are further down the road with those countries than we are with China," said Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. "Because we are still early in the process with China and because of its size, there is great upside to strengthening our ties and building new relationships there."

Schatz and others working on APEC view the high-level meeting as one of the best strategic opportunities that Hawaii has had to move ahead of China's other business and travel-industry suitors. States from California and Nevada to Illinois, Florida and New York have long been clamoring to further ties with the world's most populous country. Hawaii leaders are now counting on APEC's momentum to edge out these competitors and others.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected to attend the Nov. 12-13 APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, which President Barack Obama will host in his birth state. As the world's second-largest economy, China is expected to be well-represented among the 15,000 or so APEC attendees, who will include international government and business leaders and their entourages of support staff, security, media, friends and family.

"APEC is really a mechanism or vehicle for us to showcase what's going on in Hawaii," said Peter Ho, chairman of the Hawaii Host Committee for APEC. "Everyone clearly recognizes the opportunity China presents and we see these efforts as a building block for future economic growth."

Business initiatives are under way in advance of the first APEC summit to be held in the United States since 1993, said Schatz, who is flying to China on Sunday.

"China is interested in seeking economic opportunities in America and they are especially comfortable in Hawaii because of our geographic proximity, and there's an aspect of being culturally comfortable as well," he said.

The five-day trip, which will take Schatz from Beijing to Guangzhou, will ease the way for isle businesses that want to enter China. It will build on an agreement signed in January between the Beijing International Brand Management Center and the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Schatz said. Only Hawaii and Illinois, Obama's home state, have been offered this China advantage, he said.

"The memorandum of cooperation is already in place, but having this program up and running would give us another arrow in our quiver," Schatz said. "Local companies who are selected to participate in this program would have a leg up in terms of navigating the trade regulations and difficulties in entering the Chinese market."

Schatz plans to meet with hundreds of Chinese government officials and business leaders. He will discuss the opening of a Hawaii product showcase in Shanghai, he said.

"We'll also encourage the Chinese delegation to be as large as possible to APEC and to ask them to participate in our Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo in September on Oahu," Schatz said.

Meanwhile, Hawaii's hospitality industry is helping the Hawaii Host Committee for APEC woo a group of seven journalists from Beijing. Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Hilton Hawaii, which both rolled out Chinese amenity and service packages at select properties this week, and Hawaiian Airlines helped fund the journalists' five-day trip to Hawaii, which runs through Saturday. The hope is that the journalists' coverage will promote travel to Hawaii and help showcase the state's clean energy; sky, ocean and earth sciences; health and life sciences; and meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions, said Mayor Peter Carlisle.

"This is the Pacific Century," Carlisle told the journalists at a reception in their honor hosted by Hilton Hawaiian Village. "We look to Asia for our future. Together we will work for more globalization."

The committee plans to bring two more groups of Chinese journalists to increase APEC-related hype, Ho said.

"If we had asked these journalists a few years ago to come to Hawaii, it would have been highly doubtful that they would have visited. APEC has created that opportunity for us," he said. "These media-familiarization trips will hopefully spark interest in our state and help reposition Hawaii as not only a leisure destination, but a good place to do business." 

APEC HAS generated much interest in Hawaii, said a reporter from The People's Daily, who requested along with other journalists on the trip not to be identified by name.

"APEC is very famous in China. We are still developing, so it's an important event," said the print journalist, whose publication reaches up to 4 million readers worldwide.

The Aug. 9 start of direct flights on China Eastern between Honolulu and Shanghai also has increased interest in Hawaii, the woman said.

"In the heart of Chinese people, Hawaii is the most popular place that Chinese want to go," she said. "The flights will make many Chinese want to come here."

Up until now, there have not been many APEC stories about Hawaii running in China, said an international news journalist from the Phoenix InfoNews Channel.

"I expect more stories in the coming months," said the journalist, whose national news channel is one of six channels broadcast by the Phoenix Television network, which reaches more than 42 million households in China and about 140 million viewers.

Hawaii also will benefit from the Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo, which will be held Sept. 12-15 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, Schatz said.

More than 1,200 people from the U.S. State Department and Singapore-based APEC are expected to participate in the event, he said.

"It will create quite a bit of synergy around clean energy, which is a topic where our interests are aligned with China's," Schatz said.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who plans to travel to China as soon as practical, will be welcoming attendees at the clean-energy summit, Schatz said. At the same time, Schatz will join a delegation from Hawaii attending the APEC Senior Official Meeting and other related meetings held Sept. 15-26 in San Francisco, he said.

Hawaii tourism officials also are prepping for the fifth annual China-U.S. Travel Leaders Summit, which will take place Sept. 25-26 in Kona. Shao Qiwei, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, is scheduled to attend the event along with 31 provincial tourism directors and other top officials from China's major cities and top travel companies.

In the past, both governments have credited the summit with enabling China's travel industry to grow. Chinese President Hu referred to last year's summit during his remarks at a 2011 White House news conference with Obama, and the 2009 summit was listed as one of the top 10 trade-building events by the 20th U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. Given the event's importance in China, news coverage of this year's summit is expected to reach 1.3 billion Chinese, said Jadie Goo, an HTA tourism brand manager.

"There will be extensive media coverage from China on this summit," Goo said. "It's an unprecedented opportunity for peer-to-peer relationship building between China and U.S. travel leaders."

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