Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Hawai'i could set example for world

By Jerry Burris
Adveritser Editorial Page Editor

That old saying, "Be careful what you wish for, you might get it," could well be on the mind of local business, government and tourism officials right now.

The wish is that Hawaii will emerge from its sun-and-surf reputation to be a true international center for business and global exchange — a "Geneva of the Pacific," if you will.

Well, the wish is beginning to come true. And now we are seeing the reality of such an undertaking.

In early May, a hoard of prime ministers, potentates and plenipotentiaries will descend on Honolulu for the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank. Even President Bush might attend.

It is a prestigious meeting and a coup for local authorities. But it brings with it more than its share of headaches. A few years ago, such meetings would be largely ignored by the general public. Not any more.

Growing concerns about the impact of a world economy have led to an active anti-globalization movement. They are concerned about the impact of the global economy and industrialization on the environment, on local customs and culture, on indigenous people and on the the rights of workers.

These issues showed up in the form of violent protests in Seattle during the World Trade Organization’s meeting in 1999 and have dogged such meetings elsewhere, from Washington, D.C., to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where the Asian Development Bank met last year.

Local authorities are quite certain there will be some form of protest here as well, although they hope that the lessons learned in Seattle will keep things from getting out of hand.

One of those most concerned about giving a legitimate voice to those who challenge the ADB and other big international institutions is Seiji Naya, the ebullient head of the state’s Department of Planning, Economic Development and Tourism. Naya served as chief economist for the ADB at its headquarters in Manila, where he fought for a fundamental shift in the philosophy of the bank.

When the ADB was founded in 1966, it had a fairly specific focus on economic growth and development that tended to translate into big projects and infrastructure. In the jargon of the time, the bank was more interested in massive dams than in water wheels.

Naya argued that more attention should be devoted to the development of "human capital" through education and improvement of the quality of life over raw growth. The bank’s thinking has evolved considerably since that time. In 1999, the bank formally refocused its mission to one of poverty reduction through "sustainable economic growth, social development and good governance" (read, elimination of corruption).

These are the words the bank believes its anti-globalization opponents want to hear. Whether they represent deeds is the topic of a much deeper discussion.

And that’s what Naya wants to promote. The agenda of the bank meeting already includes some formal meetings between the ADB and the so-called NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations). Naya and other conference organizers would like to take this further, into the streets as it were, for extensive dialogue with the bank’s critics.

He did just that in Chiang Mai, where the Thai-speaking Naya went into the streets to chat up the farmers and labor organizers who were protesting outside the conference halls.

If that kind of dialogue can be replicated in Honolulu, on a more formal, more serious and more extensive basis, then we might be able to become more than just another international meeting center. We could become the home of a new style of meeting — the "Honolulu Process," if you will — where us-vs.-them no longer applies.

If that happens, we won’t have to worry about becoming the Geneva of the Pacific — we could be something better. Geneva, and other international meeting centers, can strive to become like Honolulu. Wouldn’t that be something?

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