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Setting the record straight: 'I have never said I object to Chinese tourists'

Updated: Jun 14

By Gov. Arnold Palacios

Saipan-- I wish to correct some of the inaccurate and misleading statements made in the press this week. 


First, let me be clear that my administration welcomes all visitors to the CNMI, including visitors from mainland China. I have never said that I “object” to Chinese tourists, or lawfully admitted tourists from any other country. The Marianas Variety’s headline suggesting otherwise was wrong. 


I have, however, expressed concern on multiple occasions about the instability of the mainland Chinese tourism market, especially in light of geopolitical tensions in our region and economic conditions in China. That much is true.          


Let me also be clear that there is a big difference between the legitimate tourists from mainland China who want to enjoy our beautiful islands and the Chinese Communist Party that controls the government and citizens of the People’s Republic of China. 


It is the CCP that presents an increasing threat to national security and peace in our region. Political and economic coercion by the CCP and its proxies is all over the news. It was a hot topic at last week's recent Micronesian Islands Forum held on Guam.      


Yes, it is true as some have pointed out, that there have been important overtures at dialogue and cooperation between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and even efforts to increase tourism from mainland China to the U.S.  


But the critical difference that is conveniently ignored by some is that PRC tourists traveling anywhere in the U.S. except the CNMI must first obtain B1/B2 visas. They have to be vetted.


The CNMI remains the only place in the nation where Chinese nationals may enter without a visa or any prior screening. There are significant security threats and other problems associated with that lack of vetting. We have seen overstayers, people sneaking into Guam, and criminal elements entering the CNMI. 


This lack of vetting is why members of Congress have called on the Biden administration to end parole authority for PRC tourists to the CNMI.   


Tourist parole authority may be revoked at any time. As tensions heighten in the region, revocation becomes more likely. This is one of many reasons why I say we must diversify our tourism industry and focus our resources on more stable markets and on enhancing our destination.    


I am hopeful, as many are, that the proposed Economic Vitality and Security Travel Authorization Program (EVS-TAP) will provide the level of screening that will be sufficient to secure our borders while still allowing visitors from mainland China to enter.

But until EVS-TAP is implemented, and as long as geopolitical tensions remain so high, it makes little sense for us to spend our limited resources pursuing unlimited flights from mainland China. 


One thing that has been reported is true: I did decline to sign a letter that Ms. Kim King-Hinds drafted for me when she was still the chair of the Commonwealth Ports Authority board. That letter pleaded with the Department of Transportation to give CPA a $30 million subsidy. 


Federal departments don’t just hand out millions of taxpayer dollars for nothing. It probably didn’t help Ms. King-Hinds’ case to ask for more federal money when CPA had quickly blown through its American Rescue Plan Act funds and had little to show for it. 


Still, I did go to the trouble of inquiring through back channels if Ms. King-Hinds’ request was even possible. The answer was "no."


So, I chose instead to appoint new members to the CPA board who would take the lead in rolling back the outrageous fees that the King-Hinds board had imposed on our struggling airlines. 


I support the new board’s proposal to lower the airport fees and use CPA’s reserve funds to pay off the bond that was used to justify the fee hikes in the first place. The bondholders have responded positively to the idea. Frankly, this should have been done long ago.     


Thank you for the opportunity to correct the record. 

Arnold Palacios is the governor of the Northern Marianas.

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