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  • By Jonathan Perez

Zinke: Mariana islands are 'not forgotten'

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, left, talks to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke while they inspect the Gov. Eloy S. Inos Peace Park in Saipan. Photo by Jonathan Perez.

Saipan —Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made a brief stop to Saipan Thursday, a trip underscoring the equal importance of the territories in the Pacific especially in terms of national security.

“Because it is important, the frontline of the territories, we want to make sure that you’ve seen the shining light on the hill, the beacon,” Zinke said during his Saipan visit after his trip to Guam. “We want to make sure that this is the shining light at sea too and that the islands are not forgotten. How they [territories] could create their economies. I’m happy to see that Saipan, the CNMI, is doing well; but there’s always an opportunity to do it better.”

Guam and the CNMI are strategically important to national and regional security. Both are in close proximity to East Asia, where tension between China and its neighbors continues.

The U.S. military has the Anderson Air Force Base north of the island nation with the Naval Base Guam at the western portion. Both military installations form the Joint Region Marianas, headed by its commander Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield. The U.S. Department of Defense has also chosen the island of Tinian as the location for its planned divert activities and other exercises.

In an interview with reporters after a wreath laying ceremony at the American Memorial Park’s Court of Honor, Zinke said the visit gave assurance that the federal government wants territories like the CNMI and Guam to grow economically. “Our side is to make sure that outside the fence, the bases, that there’s a prosperous economy. To make sure that economy prospers and that the military in its strategic part of the Pacific, protects national security. It also to make sure [territories] have a platform that the economy can thrive. To make sure that Saipan and the Marianas prosper.”

“The Saipan and Tinian stop are part of a longer trip to emphasize that the Pacific matters. Saipan matters. The US’ pivot [has been] spending more time and resources looking at the Pacific. It is really about making sure that we had freedom of movement, actions, sovereignty and choice. It should mean something. The military has been focusing on — we have 400,000 troops — the budget that looks at a number of holes and expanding.”

The former Navy SEAL and U.S. Representative from Montana's at-large district is so far the highest-ranking member of the Trump Cabinet to made the trip to Saipan, almost a week of U.S. Department of Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary for Basing Allison Sands' visit to Tinian.

Members of the U.S. Congress also held several Congressional Delegation visits to Saipan, with Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) leading the trip in 2017 and this year. Their visit was in connection with the ongoing workforce issues in the CNMI. President Trump, last July, signed into law the NMI Workforce Act that extends the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker visa program until 2029.

Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Areas Douglas W. Domenech, Deputy Commander of U.S. Pacific Command Lt. Gen. Bryan P. Fenton, Joint Region Mariana Commander Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, National Security Council’s Eric Johnson, Office of Insular Affairs Director Nik Pula, Department of the Interior’s Lt. Greg Knee, and U.S. DoD’s Oceania Director Amon Killeen joined Zinke in the tour.

CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres thanked Zinke for taking the effort to see first-hand and listen to the issues concerning the Commonwealth.

“Having him here and him seeing our monuments, and [American Memorial Park], is a great honor for all of us. We’ve also been in Tinian a couple of and also toured the island,” Torres said. “Having him [Zinke] here and seeing our islands, seeing the progress, it makes a big difference. Having someone in his position flying all the way from DC and giving us time for visitation. What the Secretary said, partnership is what we look for in progress. To see what we’ve been doing in the last three years, there’s progress.”

The CNMI's workforce and immigration issues were also discussed. “We’ve been discussing since last night. In fact, he congratulated us for having our CWissue [settled]. We talked about waiting for the [CW] rules and regulations from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some of the challenges we faced with our [Chinese and Korean] tourists. How important Asia works here in the CNMI. And how difficult it is to get big companies come here.”


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