Potomac News Online | County leaders hopeful ahead of Asian summit

Prospects for increased trade and cultural exchanges between Northern Virginia and the countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation region are being buoyed by the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Bangkok this week.

Ethnic groups that trace their roots to the Asia Pacific region also hail President Bush’s nine-day trip as a source of pride.

But the gold dust that falls off the Bush visit is expected to largely rest on open and renewed markets for American businesses and more friendly ties among immigrant groups in Middle America.

The president is stumping for free and fair trade, for a level playing field where Americans can compete, Martin Briley, economic development director of Prince William, told the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger.

Likening the president’s Asian trip to a rising tide that will lift American businesses and create jobs, Briley hoped the county’s allure as a center for biotechnology would catch the attention of Asian investors and increase collaboration between Asians and Americans.

“I expect international collaboration between George Mason University and Pacific Rim countries to continue (in the high tech and biotech industries),” he said.

Biotechnology as a magnet for economic development has been cultivated in the county for 10 years, he added, saying GMU’s center for biotechnology in Manassas anchors the county’s plan to be a biotech industry zone.

Japanese high tech companies are in Prince William while Korean, Chinese, Thai and Filipino business are in the county’s service and retail sector, Briley said, adding that the entry of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly into Prince William raises the biotechnology profile of the county, an aspect that could draw investors from Asia and the Pacific Rim.

The Rev. Caprili Guanga, 44, hopes the presidential visit speeds up the peace process on the island of Mindanao, where Muslim rebels and the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group have fought a long-running war with Philippine government forces.

With peace and freedom from terror, he said, Asians and Americans can have more cultural connectedness, a personal dividend of the Bush trip.

The pastor was born and raised in Mindanao and served as a Christian missionary in Indonesia for 10 years with stints in Malaysia and Singapore, before moving to Chicago and recently to the county.

Indonesians, Filipinos and Malaysians in the county appreciate Bush’s visit, added the newly-installed pastor of the Grace Filipino Baptist Church in Dale City. Guanga said Southeast Asians suffer from being stereotyped as Muslims connected to terrorism and fanaticism. They have also lost revenues from their major dollar-earner, tourism.

Indonesians represent the world’s largest Muslim population, he said. Do away with the stereotype, and you’ll find them a warm and very friendly people. Only a tiny percentage of the Southeast Asian population support Islamic fundamentalism.

Bush has asked the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to help broker peace in Mindanao in a negotiation process that is ongoing in Kuala Lumpur between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (MILF). He has offered $30 million to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to fuel Mindanao’s economic revival as soon as a peace deal is reached.

Latin Americans should also draw a sense of confidence from the president’s meetings with APEC leaders from Spanish-speaking Pacific Rim countries, added Guanga.

Bush is expected to have talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox today.

Asians and Hispanics have many shared values and traditions and can join forces as a resource for friendly cooperation in the county, he noted.

In an interview with Asian journalists Tuesday at the White House, the president said he would push at the APEC summit for the resumption of World Trade Organization talks before the end of the year. WTO talks failed last month in Cancun. He also said that his visit serves to strengthen United States? alliances in the region to continue the fight against terrorism and to share America?s cherished values of freedom and democracy. 

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