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Charles Morrison

President, East-West Center

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Q: What is Hawaii’s role in shaping the Asia-Pacific region?

A: There’s a way in which Hawaii is just a very special part of the Asia-Pacific region. We have 1.3 million people. If you include the United States, the Asia-Pacific region is about 3.8 billion, so Hawaii does become just a drop in the bucket. But Hawaii is the only place where it really is an Asia-Pacific community because people have come from all over the region. I think how people from other parts of the world essentially get along in an environment of democracy and build their own society is a very special model. I think you can make contributions to improve the world from any city. You just have to concentrate on what you can do.

Q: The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference will bring together the leaders of 21 Pacific-Rim countries in Hawaii in 2011. What will that summit mean for Hawaii?

A: It’s certainly the biggest thing that’s ever happened to us in terms of international leaders coming here. I’ve been to four of these conferences and it’s the biggest thing that happened to Australia, Peru and Vietnam. So the question is: Is this a one-time meeting, or can we take advantage of this? The meeting itself does migrate but I think it’s a chance for Hawaii to show off certain players and I hope that it creates a new kind of industry that makes Hawaii a stronger, international meeting place for business. A lot of people know Hawaii for the sun, sand and surf, but we also want to brand Hawaii as a business center where people from all over the world can come to do business with each other effectively.

Q: What can Hawaii learn from the rest of the world?

A: One thing we need to learn is what a modern airport looks like. You see all these beautiful Asian airports and, yes, they are expensive and they’re found in much bigger cities, but there’s a standard that we need to reach over time. We’ve spent years and years thinking about our mass transit, and I think we can learn a lot from other countries. One area where I think we have a lot to give is in clean energy. On a relatively small island like Oahu, you can do experiments with, say, electric cars, which can then be used by a place like Korea or Japan. It’s great if we can all learn from each other’s best practices. We also learn from each other’s worst practices.

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