On July 19, the East-West Center will present former Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi, the center’s former board chair, with its Asia Pacific Community Building Award “for his dedication to strengthening the bonds of understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia and the United States.”

Past recipients of the center’s award include Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines; U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye; King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand; and Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, India’s largest conglomerate.

Established by the U.S. Congress in 1960, the center is a resource for information and analysis on key issues involving the United States, Asia and the Pacific. In particular, it seeks to develop cooperative study, research and dialogue among area nations.

Ariyoshi, 86, was governor from 1974 until 1986, having previously served a term as lieutenant governor under Gov. John A. Burns. He was the first Asian American elected governor of an American state and is the longest-serving governor in state history, now that the position is limited to two four-year terms.

While in office, Ariyoshi made developing ties between Hawaii and Japan one of his priorities. For those efforts he received the Grand Cordon of the Sacred Treasure and the Emperor’s Silver Cup from the Japanese Government. Today Ariyoshi is an advisor to Watanabe Ing and co-heads the law firm’s Asia Pacific Consulting Group.

In this first of a two-part Q&A with Civil Beat, the former governor talks about the outcomes of last fall’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu, Hawaii’s role in the region and how the EWC is involved.

Civil Beat: I’d like to start with APEC, governor. It’s now been nearly eight months since the Honolulu summit. Looking back now, do you think Hawaii accomplished what many considered its most important goal — to show the rest of the world that we are a place to do serious business, particularly on an international level?

Gov. George Ariyoshi: That’s right. I believe that that has happened. You know, APEC is an international organization, and you have members there that are interested in certain parts of the economy from their own point of view. So, there is a desire on the part of the APEC members to look at what kind of things are out there and what might possibly be doable in their part of the world.

What I think is very, very important, however, is that none of these things happen without the people. Look back 20, 25 years at where international trade was: It was across the Atlantic. … But over the years, that began to change, and now the Asia-Pacific is the dominant part of the world, more dominant than the European side. And so you have more attention being focused to this area.

Part of it is because of the American policy of doing more and having more involvement in the Asia-Pacific region. … But, you know, it takes more than just policy or countries or APEC or whatever it may be. What really happens is the impact on the people. … APEC was very important in highlighting (the people) and what happens here in Hawaii. It also helped us learn a bit more about what happens in Asia and the Pacific. But it really comes down to what we are able to do as a people to take advantage of things that are happening.

For example, when Hillary Clinton comes out, the secretary of state, and she makes a pronouncement about how we are becoming an Asia-focused nation, and how Asia plays such a vital role, and therefore we are going to be involved. But that’s national policy. And unless you have people in the region who will respond to it and come together and react and do things, it just becomes a policy on the part of the government.

You have lots of contacts in this region. Have you heard folks since the APEC summit saying, “Let’s send our meetings to Honolulu” or “We think of Honolulu as a place to do business,” to come and meet — perhaps at military levels, diplomatic levels. Have you heard some of that kind of talk?

Yes, I have. And it’s not because of APEC only. They have responded to things that we have added on to — things that had already begun to happen in the area. And we can’t have more things happening in Hawaii unless we have more things happening in Asia. We have gotten more involved. … Just look at what’s happened with the East-West Center, the meetings that we are having. It’s an indication that things are beginning to change. As I said, not automatically. But the East-West Center has played a vital role in people thinking in this kind of way (about Hawaii).

This must be very exciting for you, because you were involved with the center in terms of supporting it through the years. Is this attention something new, a new direction for the East-West Center?

The idea was there, but I think it takes more than just an idea to make things happen. And from there the center has evolved, and the community has evolved as a result.

When we started off the East-West Center, the policies were very clear: We wanted to bring about an opportunity — a place — for people to come together and to get to understand each other so that they can do things better. But one of the things that we wanted to really make sure of was that the center did not become a propaganda arm of the State Department. Not that it was, but the perception was very important. People in Asia, they think, “Oh, what they do out there, it’s because the State Department wants us to do it.” We felt that it was very important for that not to happen.

That’s why very early, in the mid-’70s, right after I became governor, we had the center incorporated under Hawaii laws. And as a result from that, we had to negotiate with the State Department — and it’s tough to negotiate with the State Department. But, to their credit, they saw the wisdom of not having outsiders think that the State Department controlled the center and all of the parts of what they do. So, they went along.

The most important part of that incorporation was the creation of a board made up of an additional five international members. And thats what we have. And from that I think we have become more and more international, with more community building, more directly involved in what is happening in Asia.

Now, you know the Republicans in Congress, with the control the House, they and others have tried to cut the funding for the East-West Center. Senator Inouye has been instrumental in making sure we continue to get that money. But how concerned are you about the financial solvency of the center given the politics in Washington right now?

I think it’s really up to us. That’s why we created an office in Washington, too. I think we need to reexamine that office also, but the purpose of the creation of that office in my time was to let the people in Washington know about the center, the value of the center, how they themselves get effected.

You know, if you were a member of Congress and you were going to come to Hawaii or the Asia-Pacific, you can get a briefing in Washington. But that briefing will be based upon what their feelings are, what they feel they’d like to see happen. Kind of biased, you know?

Washington-centric?

That’s right. And they want you to know that, when you go overseas, that you will be sure that you understand the Washington policies. I think the center is above that. What the center does is not try to tell people one way or another, but to try and give an orientation to people as it is, what really is out there, so that they get a true feeling of the people and the events and the economies out there, so that they can make the best judgement possible. That’s what I felt the center should be doing, and as a result gain support. And I think that the center has done that.

I have not been looking at Washington often, but that’s one of the reasons the Washington office is very important. I think it is a very constant thing. We have to have our board members, those that have connections, constantly talking to the Congress people, the senators and the states that they come from, to let them know about what the center does. There is a misconception sometimes that the center is only involved in trying to make policies. That’s not what the center is. The center is an effort to bring people together, whatever their point of views may be, whatever decision they come out with. To bring them together so that they understand the other person, they understand maybe why that person makes that kind of decision, and maybe looking at how they can make the right kind of decisions in order to meet the requirements and needs and the feelings of the people out there.

Doesn’t that representative in Washington also consult with the State Department? The Department of Defense?

Yes, that’s right. But I am not sure if we have done as good a job as we ought to do. Sure, the State Department and Defense. But I think it’s very vital that we look at all aspects of the Asia-Pacific, all the pieces that are involved here and for us to go out and try to show every group out there how they benefit from the interchange, the cultural interchange. And you know, when you think about this world, no matter where you look at, you can have policies. But the policies are only as good as the people in the region that support the policy. And that’s what I think the center tries to do: bring about the understanding so that they in their own way can understand what the other person is thinking, and vice-versa.

As you know, it was Secretary Clinton that used the word “pivot” at APEC — a pivot from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific. This month and next we have the RIMPAC exercises starting up. How much of that pivot is going to be focused militarily as oppose to commerce and trade and cultural exchange?

I think they are all tied together. If you are a business person in Asia, you want to be sure that when you start doing things outside of your country, that you are going to be secure. … The military part, the security part and the business part are tied very much together.

The CINCPAC1 people here, they acknowledge that and they recognize that. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but here in the Pacific area the CINCPAC people are very understanding of what is happening with the needs out there, not just military. It’s very much integrated. And the fact that we have the East-West Center, that we have the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and that organization provides for the military aspects but also the civilian side. In Hawaii, this tie-up becomes very, very important. And I know the East-West Center is in constant touch with the military so that the military understands the kind of things that we are trying to do.

Coming Tuesday: Gov. Ariyoshi talks about tourism, sustainability and Hawaii’s potential to help with space exploration.

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