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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

APEC: Let's not blow big chance

By Jerry Burris

Why would the City and County of Honolulu and the state of Hawai'i take on the unenviable responsibility of hosting a couple of dozen world leaders for some kind of conference?

In a word: Clout.

Honolulu plans to host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting next year. This began as a forum for economic ministers, business leaders and the like to get together and figure out ways to increase trade and economic activity within the region.

But, beginning with President Clinton, it became much more than that. Clinton transformed this regional meeting into a gathering where presidents and prime ministers and so forth would get together to talk story and cut deals.

(And, in a bit of a joke, they all get together for a photo op wearing the classic garb of the host country. Obviously, this will be aloha shirts, but by whom?)

So now in 2011, the meeting comes to Honolulu.

Hawai'i has never before hosted a gathering of this stature. At a press conference this week, the superlatives were lathered on:

Senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye: "It will be a challenge of the greatest magnitude for our state."

Sen. Daniel Akaka: "This is the beginning and a launching of a great period of time for Hawai'i."

Gov. Linda Lingle: "This is clearly the opportunity of a lifetime."

Mayor Mufi Hannemann: "This is like the Olympics of the business community."

Is it all that? Yes and no. These things come and go around the Pacific Rim and who remembers them? Is Brunei more important today because it hosted APEC?

The APEC meeting provides an opportunity for Hawai'i business, labor, community groups and others to prove they can work together for the common good. In a way, this rises above politics like few other gatherings.

For instance, Hannemann proposes to beautify the Dillingham corridor that takes so many visitors from the airport into Waikīkī. Let's hope this will involve more than putting up cheap barricades to shield the gritty industrial vistas from happy visitors and important potentates.

This is a great opportunity for state-county-private cooperation. Hawai'i has languished too long under the tropical umbrella of its own creation: Nice place to visit but who would do serious business there? That has to change at some point.

The APEC meeting is the beginning of that change. Hawai'i has an opportunity to demonstrate we are more than just another pretty face.

We better not blow it.