Thursday, February 1, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, February 1, 2001

Isle leaders confront globalization here

We welcome the leaders from the sprawling and diverse Pacific Island community now meeting at a two-day conference hosted by the East-West Center.

Along with lingering problems with lack of resources, aid dependency, vulnerability to natural disasters, population, political and literacy problems, globalization is much on the minds of the 22 regional leaders attending the Sixth Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders. It’s not so much a matter of 8 million scattered islanders trying to hitch their wagons to this rising economic star, but rather of trying not to let it leave them behind at an ever-accelerating pace.

American interest in the Pacific community — money as well as attention — waned sharply with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Washington’s strategy was to deny this sweeping area to the Soviets, so once the threat was gone, so was the concern.

That vacuum is being filled in varying degrees by Asian, European and Australian and New Zealand players. Many island nations are experiencing globalization as the appearance of new factories, run by cheap labor from Southeast Asia, to whose benefit it’s not always clear.

Thus the sentiment among the island leaders meeting at the Ala Moana Hotel is that globalization is more about threat than promise.

That fear compounds the already-unfortunate effects of inappropriate or distorted Western legacies ranging from high-fat diets to corruption. Pacific Islanders have a right to feel used by Washington, and used rather badly.

Yet this sad note also offers a ray of opportunity to Hawai’i. It is our East-West Center, after all, that continues to act as a hub for Pacific Island leaders after all these years. In an article on these pages Sunday, former Fiji President Ratu Sir Kamisese Maru pointed out the unique nature of Pacific islands and their relations, and the East-West Center’s vital role. There’s plenty of room for the University of Hawaii to move into this vacuum.

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