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APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, April 28) – For the first time, an Asian Pacific American is heading the Asia, Pacific, and Global Environment Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The ascent of Samoan American Rep Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin (D-AS), chair of the twelve-member subcommittee, was exemplified by his recent trip to China where he, Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) met with China’s second highest leader, National People’s Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

This month, Faleomavaega went to Palo Alto, Calif., where he talked with Asian Pacific Americans supporting Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-CA) resolution demanding that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologize for atrocities committed against Asian sex slaves during World War II.


Among the audience were the parents of the late Rape of Nanking author Iris Chang. Faleomavaega held the first-ever committee hearings on the issue of Asian sex slaves.

With the power of the gavel, Faleomavaega can set the agenda, order hearings, and move or stall legislation anywhere, in Washington or even the Bay Area.

When he first came to congress 10 terms ago, freshman decorum dictated a period of four to six years to become a Foreign Affairs committee member.

"I pleaded with the leadership [under Speaker Tip O’Neill]. I said, ‘This is not right.’ I really wanted to be on Foreign Affairs because there was no Asian Pacific American on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

"When I got on the committee, no one wanted to be on the Asian Pacific subcommittee. It was the pits," he said.

"The whole mentality was Europe and the Middle East. At the time we were bashing the Japanese. If it wasn’t the Japanese, it was bashing the Chinese."

He said lack of interest in the committee was attributed to the United States’ historically "mixed feelings" about Asia, from Japan’s 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor at the onset of World War II to the stalemate in the Korean War and defeat in the Vietnam War.

Faleomavaega saw Vietnam in 1967-68 as a soldier during the Tet Offensive.

"I did not know I was coming back in a body bag or if I was coming back alive," he said. "I thought we learned our lesson in Vietnam. Guess what we are doing in Iraq?"

In regards to recent six-party talks about North Korean nuclear arms, the congressman noted the "Asian Pacific culture" approach to diplomacy.


China was not credited for its "pivotal role" in breaking the impasse and bringing the parties together.

"We don’t want to be braggarts, boasting of doing these things. We do it quietly and not make a big scene out of it," he said. Good US-China relations is "the big picture."

"We got this idea that China is going to be this monster, the next Soviet Union. We do have leaders in Washington who literally believe in this," he said. "How many people in America or even Europe understand Eastern cultures? Practically zero."

"I hope that I might make a dent. If anything else, it is to really to educate the American people about our Asian Pacific American culture. If we can do that, maybe we can find a better solution of bringing peace to not just here, but all over the world."

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