Consular Corps celebrates 200 years

Feb. 9—Two hundred years ago today, the first fully accredited diplomat was appointed to Hawaii. Now the Consular Corps Hawaii is celebrating its extensive history.

Two hundred years ago today, the first fully accredited diplomat was appointed to Hawaii. Now the Consular Corps Hawaii is celebrating its extensive history.

The Consular Corps, founded in 1824 and one of the oldest organizations in Hawaii, represents over 35 countries and serves visitors to the islands as well as foreign nationals living in the state.

"For us it's the first time that we are actually looking at our own history, " Honorary Consul for Germany Denis Salle said about the milestone. "We've never really had a reason to look back, because (the Consular Corps has ) just been going and going. For some of us this is a time for realization for what our role in this community is."

Members of the Consular Corps wear many hats : They assist visiting tourists and nurture business between Hawaii and their country, foster cultural exchange and represent their sending nation on official business.

Over the past few years, global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate-related issues like the August wildfires on Maui have brought members of the Consular Corps together.

"We've been called to action from one day to the next and had to learn that we need to work together as consuls to overcome, " Salle said. "Normally, a lot of the crises that occur are singular for each country, but these larger events that have happened, where literally everybody had somebody affected, have highlighted our role to us."

Despite not having official founding documents, the Consular Corps recognizes its beginning in 1824, when the British appointed Richard Charlton as the "Consul for the Sandwich, the Society, and the Friendly Islands "—the first fully accredited diplomat to Hawaii. Since then, diplomats from France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Peru were established in Honolulu. In 1863 the Netherlands opened a consulate.

By 1892, five legations and 20 consulates existed in Hono ­lulu, and the Hawaiian kingdom maintained its own network of diplomats and consuls worldwide, with 93 missions across America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

Now the Consular Corps is composed of six career consulates general and 32 consulates general or honorary consulates general across every continent, as well as associate members who represent various government and community organizations.

The Consular Corps' anniversary comes at a peak moment in time for Hawaii's role in international affairs. Honolulu has become an increasingly important hub for international policy development as U.S. leaders and diplomats turn their attention to the Pacific.

Camp Smith, located near Halawa Heights and home of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, held the 2023 U.S.

Regional Ambassadors Conference last January. In October the 20-year extension of the Compact of Free Association agreements between the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the United States was signed at the East-West Center in Manoa.

Salle said tourism and the Indo-Pacific Command are the two drivers behind the work of the Consular Corps.

"All of the Pacific Rim nations have this focus on Hawaii because if any crisis happens, the eyes will be on the Indo-Pacific Command.

If anything goes wrong out there, this is where it's going to be controlled from, " Salle said. "Hawaii has a bunch of things going for it right now."

The islands are also home to three think tanks focused on international affairs : the East-West Center, the Pacific Forum and the Daniel K. Ino ­uye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. Although the Consular Corps is not a think tank, Salle said that it can serve as a "catalyst for informal conversation among the consular community."

The Consular Corps will celebrate its anniversary tonight at its annual ball at the Royal Hawaiian Resort. The event will, as it does each year, celebrate the incoming dean, who this year is Annie Kaneshiro. Kaneshiro serves as the consular agent of Tonga, and all of tonight's cultural aspects will be focused on Tonga.

"Annie Kaneshiro has been absolutely instrumental in our group as a long-serving treasurer but also as a backbone of the organization, " Salle said.

Gov. Josh Green will also receive a Distinguished Serv ­ice Award from the Consular Corps for his work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

But even as it celebrates its extensive history, Salle said the organization's goals for the future include building out its policy arm and holding more events focusing on current affairs, as well as continuing its progress in connecting Hawaii to the world—especially after slowdowns from the pandemic.

"We're trying to find a niche in the international community that we can serve from a topic point of view, and we are trying to come out of COVID a little more, " Salle said. "This 200th anniversary marks, I think, some degree of (going ) back to normal—back to monthly events and meetings, and back to a higher momentum overall."