Friday, January 26, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 26, 2001

Local Asia experts could join Bush team

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Two Asia-Pacific experts with ties to Honolulu appear to be headed for high-level jobs with the Bush administration, appointments that should bolster Hawaii’s growing reputation as a center for the study of Pacific Rim policy.

James Kelly, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a private, nonprofit think tank in Honolulu, is Colin Powell’s likely nominee as assistant secretary of state for Asia.

Kelly has received several phone calls from Powell about the position and is leaving for Washington, D.C., tomorrow. He has not been formally nominated and faces Senate confirmation for the position, but colleagues say he has a solid reputation and has a deep understanding of the entire East Asian region.

Also, Torkel Patterson, previously a senior associate with the Pacific Forum CSIS and president of the consulting firm Group Pacific, likely will be appointed to the position of senior director of Asian affairs, friends and colleagues said yesterday.

Patterson left Honolulu three years ago to become Raytheon International’s president of the North Asia Pacific division and senior country manager for Japan and Taiwan.

Patterson could not be reached yesterday. Kelly said he could not comment on his potential nomination as assistant secretary of state. His colleagues and friends say navigating the politics of the appointment means that they can talk, but not until the confirmation process is finished.

Both Kelly and Patterson are former naval officers who have served in the White House.

Muthiah Alagappa, senior fellow at the East-West Center, said their appointments will forge links among Honolulu’s close community of think tanks — such as the East-West Center, the Pacific Forum and the Asia Pacific Center — the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and East Asian countries.

"I think Honolulu is beginning to develop a reputation in this area," Alagappa said. "It does draw attention to the fact that Hawaii is a place to look at for Asia-Pacific relations and security. It’s really very good for Hawaii. I hope people realize that. We have a strong core of researchers here."

Also, Robert Zoellick, Bush’s choice for U.S. trade representative, has visited Honolulu numerous times to participate in conferences and meetings on the Asia-Pacific region. For a time, Zoellick was president of CSIS, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., which is associated with the Pacific Forum. Zoellick and Kelly have known each other for years.

Kelly worked in the Reagan White House as special assistant for national security affairs and in both the Reagan and George Bush White Houses as senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council. He has also worked at the Pentagon as deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and had command of the Naval Supply Depot at Pearl Harbor before he retired in 1982 as a captain.

"He’s very highly respected," said Frank Boas, president of the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council. "He’s really been recognized as the leading authority on what’s happening here in the Pacific."

Patterson was a member of the National Security Council as White House director of Asian Affairs under President Bush and previously worked at the Pentagon as the senior country director for Japan in the office of the Secretary of Defense.

Hawaii will benefit if Kelly and Patterson serve in the White House again, Boas said. "I think they realize the importance of Hawaii as the only Asia-Pacific state and they realize the implications for Hawaii’s future," Boas said. They are likely to return to Honolulu, so their expertise won’t be lost here, he said.

Between Kelly and Patterson, Kelly is better known in Honolulu. He has lived here for years and has extensive community involvement, including being a board member of the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council and the Japan-America Society of America, as well as being the chair of the Honolulu Committee on Foreign Relations.

Retired Admiral L.R. "Joe" Vasey, founder of the Pacific Forum, said Kelly has developed relationships with diplomats, business leaders and top officials .

"He’s a tremendous person," Vasey said. "He’s very low key, very akamai on Asia. I would say he’s got the most astute, sophisticated knowledge of Asia of anyone this side of Washington, D.C. Probably more than anyone in D.C."

Kelly is perceived as politically middle-of-the-road and a good listener, Vasey said. Colleagues also say he is cautious about America’s relationship with China and feels that Japan has been de-emphasized too much during the Clinton years.

His appointment can only be good politically for Honolulu, Vasey said.

"It’s going to be a boost," Vasey said. "There will be an international role for the Pacific Forum and the East-West Center, and there will be greater potential for the area in general."

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