There is an extraordinary bond between Hawaii and Japan, built over decades through sustained diplomatic, economic and cultural exchanges. It happened, as do most relationships in Asia, by building trust and personal relationships over time.
Now both Hawaii and Japan are connected in myriad meaningful ways. Did you know there are more than 200,000 hula dancers in Japan? Did you know that more than 11,000 students come to Hawaii from Japan every year? Our relationship is deep, rich and mutual.
The organic outpouring of support through the Aloha for Japan and Kokua for Japan efforts, raising millions of dollars for tsunami relief, is proof of our enduring friendship.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to start building the kinds of relationships that Hawaii has with Japan across the Asia and Pacific region. President Barack Obama selected Hawaii as the location for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting this November.
We will have all of the heads of state and finance ministers from 21 countries in the Asia Pacific Region. With nearly 20,000 people in attendance and up to 3,000 members of the media, this is our best shot at showcasing our excellence in business and leisure travel, our growing legitimacy as a test bed for clean energy technology, and our excellent University of Hawaii system.
But the prospect that hasn’t been talked about as much doesn’t have much to do with how we market ourselves externally to the rest of the world. We can use APEC to create the "Pacific Century" of which Gov. John Waihee spoke.
APEC countries are half of the world’s population, more than half of the world’s wealth, and America does more trade with APEC countries, by an order of magnitude, than with the European Union.
The balance of economic and political power on the planet is changing, and Hawaii is literally in the middle of it, because of APEC, because of our geography, and because of the diversity of our people. What we need to do is to build these relationships and make sure that as Asia grows, Hawaii prospers.
Our challenge, not just in preparation for APEC, but into the future, is to cultivate business, personal, government-to-government and cultural relationships that enable Hawaii to make APEC a starting point, rather than a blip on the screen.
We are well positioned to do so, with our strong ethnic chambers of commerce, cultural societies and personal relationships throughout Asia.
As we prepare for APEC, let’s think about not just how to put on a good show, but how to build progress through engagement for all of the APEC participants. And let’s grow the kinds of friendships that will allow our children and their children to prosper in the 21st century here in Hawaii.