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Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI)

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a self-governing Commonwealth of the United States. Located about 100 miles northeast of Guam, the CNMI is a 300 mile archipelago consisting of 14 islands, with a total land area of 183.5 square miles. The principal inhabited islands are Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. The northern, largely uninhabited islands are Farallon de Medinilla, Anatahan, Sariguan, Gudgeon, Alamagan, Pagan, Agrihan, Asuncion, Maug Islands, and Farallon de Pajaro. Saipan is 3,300 miles from Honolulu; 5,625 from San Francisco; 1,272 miles from Tokyo; and 3,090 miles from Sydney.

The Mariana Islands are on the edge of the Philippine Plate. They were formed by underwater volcanoes along the Marianas Trench. The northern islands are high volcanic islands and the southern islands are raised limestone. Anatahan was an active volcano with the first recorded volcanic eruption on 10 May 2003.

The CNMI main island of Saipan is located about 100 miles northeast of Guam, about 1,200 miles southeast of Tokyo, and 3,300 miles west of Honolulu. The smallest of the U.S. insular areas, the CNMI consists of 14 islands with a total land area of 183.5 square miles.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) emerged from the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) which the United States administered on behalf of the United Nations from 1947 until Palau, the last member of the TTPI to choose its own political future, became an independent country 1994. The Federal law (the Covenant) making the CNMI a US territory passed in 1975 following a self-determined choice by the people of the CNMI to join the United States. The CNMI adopted its constitution in 1977, and its first constitutional government took office in 1978, including the election of a governor. Under the terms of the 1978 agreement, citizens of the self-governing commonwealth were not allowed to vote in U.S. presidential elections, but they enjoyed all other benefits of US citizenship.

Pursuant to a locally-adopted constitution, they elect a Governor, bi-cameral legislature, and Washington Representative. The people of the CNMI were granted US citizenship in 1986. The 1990 population was 43,345 persons. The 1995 mid-decade census preliminary results showed a total population of 59,913 persons. Non-United States citizens made up 54 percent of the population, with local residents who were United States citizens comprising the remaining 46 percent.

The CNMI came under Federal minimum wage regulations in 2007 and immigration law in 2008. In June 2009, the US Department of Homeland Security took over the CNMI's immigration and border controls.

In February 2009, the US also signed the Guam International Agreement with Japan, as part of progress on a 2006 roadmap for reducing US presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa. On 3 October 2013 it was announced that this agreement had been amended to include provisions that clarifying that Japan would contribute up to $3.1 billion in FY12 US dollars in direct cash contributions to develop facilities and infrastructure both in Guam and the CNMI. The previous 2012 Security Consultative Committee Joint Statement had estimated the total cost of the Guam relocation to be $8.6 billion. In addition, it was affirmed that the Government of the United States of America, with the intent to provide reasonable access, would favorably consider requests by the Government of Japan to use training areas in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to further reduce its reliance on facilities on the island of Okinawa.

The U.S. is rebalancing military forces in the Asia-Pacific region. In support of this, the U.S. military is proposing to increase joint military training capabilities by developing live-fire ranges and training areas on the islands of Tinian and Pagan. The U.S. Marine Corps is leading this joint service initiative on behalf of the U.S. Pacific Command. This proposed action, which involves land, air, and sea space, follows the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

These islands have been governed by a covenant with the United States since 1986. The covenant grants United States citizenship to the residents of the Marianas, but the United States agreed not to extend United States immigration laws there, responding to fears that excessive immigration might result. The Federal minimum wage was also not extended to the Mariana Islands.

By the mid-1990s CNMI policies resulted in aliens becoming a majority of the island's population. The garment industry took full advantage of the immigration and minimum wage exception privileges, as well as privileged exceptions to the Federal trade laws, to ship products partially manufactured in the islands into the United States market even though the islands are outside the customs territory of the United States.

The worst aspect of these developments was the increasing practice by which Chinese bonded and indentured workers are imported into the factories of the Marianas, unprotected by labor laws, under contracts which prevent these workers from practicing their religions, engaging in political activity, or even marrying. Ample documentation existed that the barracks in which these workers are housed were as squalid as anywhere in the world, but ironically apparel produced in these sweatshops came into the United States labeled "Made in the USA". According to the Federal Government, by 1997 "the average landed value of CNMI garment shipments to the United States is now at a rate of $625 million annually."

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the House majority whip [aka "The Hammer"], who with his family was the 1997 New Year's Eve guest of the Marianas government, publicly vowed to fight any federal takeover of Saipan's immigration and labor laws. In 1988, Jack Abramoff was a rising Republican star who spoke at the Party's nominating convention that year. Since then, Abramoff earned tens of millions of dollars as a lobbyist for gambling casinos owned by American Indian tribes, who sought favorable laws from Congress to protect their financial interests.

One of Washington's most powerful lobbyists, Jack Abramoff, pled guilty to corruption charges in October 2099 in Washington and in Florida. Abramoff was paying to send members of the legislature and other influential opinion makers to the Mariana Islands in the Pacific because the owners of textile factories in the Marianas were his clients and he was trying to drum up support to keep his clients exempt from American minimum wage and other labor laws. Abramoff was bribing members of Congress and their staffs by providing them with gifts and campaign contributions to fund their elections, trips, meals, and with sports tickets and hiring their staffs and family members.

The charges of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion stemmed from a federal investigation of influence peddling in Washington. Abramoff was sentenced to nearly six years in prison after he plead guilty to conspiracy to bribe public officials and promised to cooperate in an investigation of his relationship with members of Congress. He was cooperating in an investigation that he attempted to influence as many as 20 members of Congress and congressional staffers, including former Republican House Leader Tom DeLay, with illegal gifts, favors and other contributions.

On October 16, 2017, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released estimates of gross domestic product (GDP) for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) for 2016, in addition to estimates of GDP by industry and compensation by industry for 2015. The estimatesof GDP for the CNMI show that real GDP-GDP adjusted to remove price changes- increased 28.6 percent in 2016 after increasing 3.8 percent in 2015. For comparison, real GDP for the United States (excluding the territories) increased 1.5 percent in 2016 after increasing 2.9 percent in 2015. The growth in the CNMI economy reflected widespread increases among the components of GDP. These increases were partlyoffset by an increase in imports, which is a subtraction item in the calculation of GDP. Exports of services was the largest contributor to economic growth in 2016, reflecting significant growth in visitor spending, particularly on casino gambling. The number of visitors to the CNMI grew over 10 percent, primarily reflecting anincrease in visitor arrivals from Korea and China. Private fixed investment increased over 60 percent in 2016, reflecting construction of the casino resort in Garapan and other hotel construction on Saipan.

A report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was created by the U.S. Congress, said a Macau-based investment firm is “fueling the narrative” that a U.S. military presence on Tinian would limit the island’s economic potential. Dated June 14, 2018, the report, “China’s Engagement in the Pacific Islands: Implications for the United States,” noted that “[o]ver the past four years, Chinese companies have ramped up their investments in the CNMI, a U.S. territory just north of Guam and a strategic asset for the U.S. military. Following the CNMI’s legalization of gambling in 2014 to help meet a public-pension shortfall, Hong Kong-based investment firm Imperial Pacific International Holdings announced plans to invest $7 billion in a casino resort on Saipan — the largest of [the] CNMI’s islands — after being granted a 25-year casino license by the CNMI government. The company’s subsidiary, Best Sunshine Live, opened a temporary casino (while it builds a larger casino and hotel resort) in July 2015, which reported unaudited a VIP rolling chip turnover of $49.2 billion for 2017, far exceeding the VIP transaction volumes of most major casinos in Macau. Best Sunshine Live and other Chinese casinos in the CNMI have come under scrutiny, facing lawsuits and investigations related to illegal labor practices and violations of anti-money-laundering regulations.”

The report stated that as “Chinese investment and tourism in the territory appear set to increase, tensions have grown surrounding DOD’s plans to use the islands for training purposes. Some in the CNMI business community have expressed concerns about plans for U.S. military training on Tinian, suggesting the U.S. military’s presence would negatively impact Chinese casino resorts on the island and limit the economic potential of the area. Representatives from Alter City Group have fueled this narrative, hinting that the company might abandon the investment. In response to DOD’s announced plans for Tinian, the company stated, ‘The [U.S. military] has suggested activities which adversely impact the island of Tinian, its residents and adjacent operators like [Alter City Group]. The benefits from the military with the [proposal] are minimal, but the burdens are significant and unsustainable.’ ”

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Page last modified: 22-11-2018 18:50:03 ZULU