Asian economic prowess is well known, but Americans of Asian extraction are a quiet, yet potent, force too. And at a time of high trade deficits and rising protectionist sentiment in the United States, Asian-Americans could be in a position to help ease trade friction with Asian trading powers.
Still, the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce (APACC), which holds its annual convention in San Francisco this week, faces many challenges.
``Whether in foreign trade or in getting a fair share of federal contracts, Asian-Americans have serious obstacles,'' says Ron Hsu, a Shanghai-born construction executive in Washington, D.C., and president of the two-year-old chamber.
On the surface, Asian entrepreneurs have many advantages: They are highly educated, hold clannish ties to commercial and financial experts, and boast above-average incomes. But many in the ethnic mixes (``We represent hundreds of dialects,'' says APACC executive director Benjamin Maynigo) still prefer the noncommunications crafts: accounting, technical sciences, etc.
President Reagan has referred to APACC as the ``fastest-growing ethnic chamber.'' There are more than 3,000 members today, but leaders predict 10 times as many by 1990. The group uses federal minority business development contracts to continue membership promotion. Mr. Maynigo insists that APACC's ``goal is self-sufficiency in two or three years.''
Chamber programs promote real estate projects and Pacific Rim trade. The chamber takes its catalyst role seriously; it designed an artificial-intelligence ``expert'' system to link minority enterprises with business leads.
APACC is rapidly building alliances. Hispanics -- whose numbers, combined with Asian-American financial mobilization, could build a formidable political and economic force -- appear receptive. And a recently announced plan with American Indians in Washington State relies on Hong Kong capital to launch a foreign-trade zone.
Even though factionalism has caused similar attempts at Asian-American alliances to founder, chamber leaders say they are not concerned that coalition-building will dilute APACC's own agenda.
Maynigo's plan -- setting up several ``revenue centers'' while building a ``multicompany'' structure -- may overcome sharp differences among the bevy of nationalities. The chamber encourages ethnic groups to sign up members from within their own ranks.
Maynigo thinks the US should post more Asian-Americans as commercial attach'es abroad. At home, ``We have the same problems as other minorities, such as marketing and management difficulties.'' Cultural and language barriers hurt individuals, barring them from standard employment paths, he says, but in forcing them to seek self-employment, the general US economy is given a boost.
``Their businesses have a multiplier effect, of course,'' Maynigo says, but talents are not always used in the most productive ways: ``They could do other things more productive than running laundries and restaurants.''