Hawaii Global Links Newsletter
Getting to Know the Pacific Forum CSIS
Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Hawaii organization is having a major impact on U.S. foreign policy in Asia.

The Pacific Forum CSIS. When you read these words, you may think back to Roman times when The Forum was, first-and-foremost, a place for discussion. Add the word “Pacific”, and you have a fairly good idea of what this Honolulu-based organization does:  stimulate discussion in the Asia-Pacific Region. The “CSIS” indicates its affiliation with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and it functions as its arm in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t have much of an idea of what the Pacific Forum does. You might say that in the field of international relations, it is one of the best-kept secrets in Hawaii. But it shouldn’t be. It is one of Asia’s foremost “think tanks”, performing research and then analyzing and distributing the results to achieve its goal of raising awareness in the U.S. of the importance of Asia and raising awareness in Asia of the value of maintaining a close partnership with America. Like a true forum, the Pacific Forum thrives on discussion—the exchange of thoughts and ideas.

I received my first taste of how it operates on June 19 when I attended an early morning seminar at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, featuring Cambodian Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. The prince was surrounded by participants in the Forum’s Young Leaders Fellowship Program. They represented Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Taiwan and the U.S. After the talk, these up-and-coming professionals posed insightful questions and exchanged business cards with the prince. Image

Prince Norodom discusses the status of Cambodia with
Young Leader Program participant Justin Bishop of
Hawaii Pacific University.


The Young Leaders pose for a photo with Prince Norodom
after his talk.  Bottom row, from L to R:  Ana Villavicencio
(Ecuador), Shanshan Wang (China), Prince Norodom and
Shiuan-ju Chen (Taiwan).  Back row:  Minh Tuan Ta
(Vietnam), Harizal Hazri (Malaysia), Joni Caminos (USA),
Ming Hwa Ting (Singapore), Brian Harding (USA), Kuniko
Nakamura (Japan) and Lina Alexandra (Indonesia).

Just under three weeks later on July 7, it was Dr. Marcus Nolan, a world-authority on international economics from the Peterson Institute in Washington, D.C., holding forth at the Plaza Club as part of the Forum’s Honolulu International Forum (HIF). This time, the audience was composed of “old Asia hands.” I spotted several retired admirals, the former head of the FBI office in Honolulu, and a retired ambassador. Dr. Nolan’s speech was followed by a long question-and-answer session that covered everything from the Beijing Olympics to protests against U.S. beef sales in South Korea. Once again, the Forum managed to bring people together and get them talking.

And on July 16, at another HIF event, Dr. Jianzhong Zhuang, the Deputy Director of the Center for National Strategy Studies at Shanghai Jiaotong University, discussed Sino-American and U.S.-Japan-China relations. I learned from Forum literature that the Pacific Forum was founded in 1975 by Rear Admiral Joe Vasey and it is non-profit and non-government. Its work is guided by an international Board of Governors, chaired by Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.


Forum President Ralph Cossa (L) and Dr. Jianzhong Zhuang 

The three events featuring Prince Norodom, Dr. Nolan and Dr. Zhuang were more the rule than the exception. In 2007, the organization hosted an impressive 16 international conferences in 13 different cities in 8 different countries, along with more than a dozen roundtables in Hawaii, featuring a broad range of international experts and high-level officials. Moreover, during the year, the organization managed to produce a quarterly journal (Comparative Connections, available at pacforum.org), 90 one- to two-page PacNet commentaries on critical issues and developments, 17 Issues & Insights research studies and conference reports, plus a book on East Asia multilateral cooperation. If that were not enough, in addition to the international Young Leaders Program, it ran the Hawaii Emerging Leaders Program for local Hawaii students and young professionals, and the Vasey Fellowship Program for young scholars throughout the Asia-Pacific region who serve as junior researchers at Forum headquarters. And all of these activities were achieved on a budget of $1.3 million and a permanent staff of just 9 persons.

The Forum is headed by President Ralph Cossa and Executive Director Brad Glosserman. Cossa is a former Air Force officer who regularly logs more than 250,000 miles-a-year organizing conferences and bringing people together throughout Asia. He considers the organization to be “track-two diplomacy” where diplomats can get together informally, away from official positions, to make real progress on major issues and issues that may be too sensitive for official dialogue. Glosserman spent many years working as a journalist in Japan, producing more than 100 published articles, focusing mostly on Japan, Korea and China. He oversees all programs and conferences, and also serves as editor of Comparative Connections.


(L to R) Development Assistant Joni Caminos, Admiral Vasey
and Young Leader Program participant Shiuan-ju Chen from

With all the activities already on their plate, the very busy Cossa, Glosserman and staff are looking to add even more. They want to “spread the word” on the Forum, and work more closely with other internationally-oriented organizations, such as the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council and DBEDT. In our next issue, we’ll look more closely at the Young Leaders Program. For more information on the Forum, check out their website at: www.pacforum.org. --Editor

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 July 2008 )
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