COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Preparing for the Pacific century

San Diego as a gateway to the Pacific region can expect huge growth in trade and tourism. If China and South Korea stay on course with record economic expansion, our port and hospitality business will benefit. That’s because global economists predict this is the century for the Pacific.

Although Japan has been a U.S. trade partner for over six decades, economic deflation and political stagnation generated by an aging population bumped Japan off the second-largest economy in favor of China. That was an issue covered by John V. Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan, at UC San Diego.

Addressing a group at the Faculty Club in January as a guest of the Graduate School of International Relations, Pacific Studies (IR/PS), Roos was joined by the Japanese Counsel General from the Los Angeles legation and several businessmen connected to Japan. The program focused on U.S.-Japan trade collaboration by citing prospects for more business between the two nations in aerospace, information technology and manufacturing.

The ambassador was encouraged that the new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is open to free trade in the Asian market as a means to overcome deflation in his nation’s economy. Questions from the audience about the U.S. military presence in Japan revealed that 75 percent is stationed in Okinawa, a critical military post to maintain peace in the Northern Pacific under security threats by North Korea and China.

An outcome of Japan’s static economy is the 50 percent decline in students coming to the U.S. for education. Roos wants that to improve, as he believes the student exchange is an important link to future trade relations.

The keynote panel speaker was Steve Smith, vice president of global sales for Japan Airlines, announcing the first daily nonstop flights from San Diego to Tokyo. Unfortunately, the new service has been canceled due to the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Reinstatement of Japan Airline’s service will be a valuable link for tourist and business travel connecting to all of Asia.

Smith said that one out of four tourists to San Diego comes from Japan, as well as business travelers from the 90 Japanese companies connected to San Diego. Cargo capacity and an American Airlines partnership allowing military to fly Japan Airlines combine to support daily direct flights. The nonstop 12-hour flight is a great incentive for Lindbergh Field, the largest U.S. airport without previous direct flights to Asia.

In contrast to the Japanese trade discussion, a conference in November featuring the U.S. and South Korean ambassadors failed to disclose any definitive strategy for economic expansion. The national elections in Korea were coming up at the end of 2012 concurrently with the U.S. presidential election. As diplomats, the two ambassadors carefully eluded any comments on their respective governments’ changes, except to say the winning candidates should encourage more free trade in Asia.

Other topics discussed included the dispute between Japan and Korea over ownership of the obscure, unoccupied islands between the two nations. There seems to be no justification for this diplomatic breach, except that South Korea has never forgiven the atrocities that Japan inflicted while occupying Korea for 40 years in the early 20th century.

Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said he is hopeful that North Korea will receive some economic reform under the new dynasty, but does not expect any political reform. Trade sanctions by the Western nations and China are working, Kim said.

What seemed to be missing was discussion of the threat of North Korea to their nation that since have escalated. Perhaps as diplomats, their opinions or thoughts on policy are restricted. Since that conference, North Korea has in fact ramped up its fury against the Western world and other perceived enemies in Asia.

And once again, the North Koreans have been rattling their swords with military exercises on the DMZ border between North and South Korea, Concurrently, the Kim Jong-un regime has rescinded the cease-fire agreement in effect with the United States and South Korea since 1953, when the Korean War ended.

With U.S. commitments in business as well as military support with most Asian-Pacific nations, this century certainly heralds expansion of trade and tourism for San Diego. That’s good enough reason for our city government to get behind new construction for hospitality services and upgrading the Port District facilities.

This was no time to be bickering over who controls tourist marketing, Mayor Filner.

Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com

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