By Anthony Pignataro
For those of us who’ve lived in Hawaii for a few years, it’s very easy to sit back, relax and convince ourselves that the rest of the world doesn’t really exist. There’s something about round-the-clock pleasant weather and terrain that just makes a person forget about the so-called “matters of state” that fill newspapers and national TV news broadcasts.
And yet a couple press releases and a news story recently crossed my desk that show Hawaii is front and center in a global issue of titanic import. China, it would seem, is either Hawaii’s best friend in the tourist world or is preparing to attack us, Pearl Harbor-style.
Let’s start with the friend stuff. According to a Sept. 26 statement put out by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), China and Hawaii are quite close–so close, in fact, that this week Chinese and American travel officials met in Kailua-Kona in a kind of tourism summit.
“The China-U.S. Tourism Leadership Summit is an important event to build on the growing relationship we have with China,” HTA CEO Michael McCartney said in the statement. “Since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in 2007, opening group and leisure travel from China to the U.S., we have seen significant growth in this market, with visitor arrivals projected to reach 91,000 in 2011, up 37 percent over last year.”
Indeed, so much growth that last week Hawaii Lt. Governor Brian Schatz sent out his own statement on the state’s “strong relationship” with Beijing.
“Chinese visitation is growing by doubt digits every year and these visitors stay longer and spend more than visitors from other markets,” Schatz said in his Sept. 22 email (Damon Tucker posted Schatz’s email here). “High-end Chinese consumers are attracted to the Hawai‘i ‘brand’ and want authentic, top quality agriculture and other products… Chinese officials here and in China have expressed to me a keen interest in our clean energy projects… In fact, several of our local renewable energy companies, particularly in solar, already have business partnerships with Chinese entities.”
Considering how many of these love letters to Chinese visitors and officials have appeared in my in-box lately, it was with great interest that I read Richard Halloran’s Sept. 26 commentary in Honolulu Civil Beat titled “The Rising East: China’s PLA May Be on the Road to a Pearl Harbor.”
“In a disturbing parallel, China in 2011 seems to have started down the same warpath that led Japan to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941,” Halloran wrote. “A Washington think tank, for instance, has suggested that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which comprises all of China’s armed forces, has devised a strategy that ‘mimics the Japanese Imperial strategy of 1941-1942.’”
Those are serious charges, and Halloran says his evidence comes from The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA–the “Washington think tank” mentioned above), though his column quotes no CSBA scholar or research study by name. Instead, Halloran rattles of a dizzying list of historical “similarities” between the current Chinese military and the Japanese empire of World War II.
Here’s a typical one: “Modern Chinese and Japanese strategists have adopted the teaching of Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategic thinker who wrote 2500 years ago that ‘to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.’ The Japanese in 1941 sought to overcome the U.S. without a fight. Chinese leaders today have indicated they hope to do the same.”
I’m no historian, but that’s a bit of a stretch, especially considering that Halloran’s column doesn’t acknowledge the growing economic ties between China and the U.S. cited above, the near trillion dollars in U.S. debt currently owned by the Chinese government or the ridiculously lopsided advantages the U.S. military holds over the PLA in terms of all manner of conventional weapons and hardware (to say nothing of nuclear warheads).
Then again, it’s also very easy, from our Central Pacific home, to convince ourselves that the people who actually run the world actually know what they’re doing.
Photo courtesy Lt. Gov. Schatz’s office