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Editorials 2019-July-12

Moving forward

MANY years ago, when tourist arrivals from Japan started to decline, the NMI stepped up its efforts to “tap” new markets such as Taiwan, Russia and, the most promising of them all, China.

It was the Babauta administration that obtained from Beijing an Approved Destination Status for the NMI in 2004. Eight years later, the local tourism industry — the islands’ only industry — finally showed some signs of recovery, and it was because of a 55 percent increase in Chinese tourists.

South Korea remains the NMI’s main source of tourists, and MVA should continue its promotions in Japan, but right now the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to lose the China market.

In 2018, over two million Chinese visited the U.S. The British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, noted last week that in “the first year of the new millennium, a modest 10.5m overseas trips were made by Chinese residents. Fast forward to 2018 and the figure was 149.7m — an astounding increase of 1,326 per cent. In less than two decades China has grown from travel minnows to the world’s most powerful outbound market, leapfrogging the US — and leaving it in its wake. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation…Chinese tourists overseas spent $277.3bn in 2018, up from around $10bn in the year 2000. Collectively, America’s globetrotters parted with a relatively paltry $144.2bn.”

In the case of Chinese tourists visiting the NMI through the parole program, U.S. officials have expressed concerns with, among other things, the rise of Chinese “birth tourism” in the Commonwealth. These concerns were spelled out in the recent 902 report which stated:

“[T]he CNMI’s access to the [Chinese] tourist market is of critical importance to the CNMI’s economy and should be facilitated to the greatest degree possible, while at the same time recognizing that national security, public safety, and immigration concerns warrant certain modifications be made to either the parole system or the existing…visa waiver program.”

That the Trump administration has embraced this document — whose importance to the local economy cannot be overstated — makes it quite possibly the only 902 report worth the paper it is written.

Congratulations to the CNMI government, and a big thank you to President Trump and his 902 team headed by Interior’s Douglas Domenech.

For its part

THE Legislature must adopt the joint resolution expressing the CNMI’s intention to 1) cooperate with the U.S. government to end “birth tourism” in the Commonwealth, and to 2) support amending the Covenant so that babies born in the Northern Marianas to tourists will not be granted U.S. citizenship.

It has been reported that Reps. Leepan Guerrero and Joel Camacho are — for lack of a better word — bothered by some of the joint resolution’s language. Their concerns should be addressed. And then lawmakers should adopt the joint resolution which is that rare thing: actually beneficial to the people of the NMI.

Wrap it up

WE are also looking forward to the fulfillment of the Senate president’s “promise” in May to “shut down” the upper house in August and September, the final two months of a distressing fiscal year. To make it happen, the Senate should work closely with the House in passing the FY 2020 budget bill and avoid a prolonged standoff. At present, the only other measure that can be considered urgent is the MPLT loan authorization.

As we’ve said before, a two-month shutdown should not prevent legislators, including House members, from serving their constituents or airing whatever concerns some lawmakers may have. If there’s a need for it, moreover, the Legislature can hold a special session.

But after passing the new budget and the MPLT bill, the Legislature should give it a rest — at least for two months. The public deserves it.