Beyond Economics – Or Is It?

Beyond Economics – Or Is It?

Many people from the mainland may remember the precarious days of the Cold War. This was the period of fall-out shelters, school bomb drills, the ultra right John Birch society and bellicose statements about which economic philosophy would win, communism or capitalism. Those were the days of the fifties, sixties and seventies when the United States was becoming entangled in the Vietnam quagmire.

It was a time when the Cuban missile crises almost resulted in atomic war and President Nixon had not yet engineered the rapprochement with “Red” China. I remember the period well as my wife and daughter were enroute to Europe by sea when their ship steamed between the path of Russian freighters carrying missiles for installation in Cuba and the U. S. naval blockade around that Caribbean island. Anyone who remembers will recall that was a time when war seemed imminent.

On Saipan the CIA’s Naval Tactical Training Unit was occupied with guerrilla warfare training for possible future covert activity in Asia. Both Guam and Saipan were closed off to all but authorized military officials. I was thinking about that period when it occurred to me that there must still be many in the Department of State and the Pentagon who could be considered “hard liners” when it comes to what was once referred to as the “communist threat.”

I wondered if the present problems the Commonwealth is experiencing with the United States Government over control of immigration might possibly have something to do with the large community of mainland Chinese workers in the islands. I am well aware that the expressed concern over alleged human rights abuses in the Commonwealth has brought the matter to the attention of certain members in Congress. But is that what’s really behind the move to strip the CNMI of control over immigration? It may be that the matter of large numbers of alien Chinese workers caused some trepidation within the U. S. Department of State. It seems to me that the matter of large numbers of alien workers became an issue several years ago when a memorandum of understanding between representatives of the People’s Republic of China and the Commonwealth was signed which caused some trepidation within the U. S. Department of State.

Under the provisions of the Covenant the United States retains responsibility for foreign affairs involving the CNMI. I can just imagine that several State and Pentagon hard liners might now question what’s happening on America’s Pacific outpost situated on the doorstep of Asia. The Commonwealth must figure somewhere within America’s strategic plan for the western Pacific considering that it is only a short distance from U. S. military assets on Guam. There are the pre-positioned ships off shore, the Voice of America facility on Tinian and almost three quarters of the island still held in military retention.

Those within this conservative, right wing school at State and Defense, and there must still be a few “cold warriors” left, must be astonished to witness the increase in mainland Chinese workers in the CNMI along with several substantial investments and see in the alleged abuses of some workers an opportunity to use the issue of human rights as justification to impose U. S. immigration laws when in reality the real reason may lie elsewhere. Also, I can’t believe it is entirely an imbalanced ratio of U. S. citizens to aliens that has raised concern. Indeed, one notes in the June 1st edition of the Variety that CNMI immigration authorities have imposed a ban on the future entry of Chinese workers along with several other Asian nationalities. How this will effect the Tinian Dynasty and other businesses one can only speculate.

The ban is probably the result of difficulty in repatriating workers now unable to transit Guam or Japan upon return to their country of origin. They seem to be “stuck” in the CNMI at least for awhile. At any rate, recalling the period when Covenant negotiations were taking place no one outside the discussions knew what American military plans were for the islands if, indeed, anyone knew except a select few in the military – and they weren’t talking.

The only thing the rest of us were aware of at that time was that the U. S. exercised the so-called “denial policy” which kept all investors out of the then Trust Territory by exercising Article 8 (1) the “favored nation clause” in the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement. The United States as the administering authority interpreted this provision in the agreement in such a manner to be an effective tool to prohibit all foreign investment. This policy precluded any investment other than that from the United States which, at the time, was minimal. The result being that no foreign enterprise was permitted to conduct business in the Marianas or in any other other island within Micronesia. It was largely through the efforts of Joe Screen, Vice President, J. C. Tenorio Enterprises, David M. Sablan, Microl Corporation and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce at a meeting held at the Royal Taga Hotel in December, 1972 that finally convinced the U. S. Department of Interior and presumably the State Department of the need to relax its policy and open the islands to foreign investment. I explored the internet to determine if there was any indication of America’s current foreign policy toward China and discovered the following: U. S. concern over human rights, non-proliferation of nuclear material, America’s trade deficit with the country, the PRC’s relationship with North Korea, the security of Taiwan, American concerns for democratic freedom in Hong Kong, the Tibet issue and even the trafficking in human organs. So it appears there are some contentious issues between the two powers.

To state that the presence of mainland Chinese workers in the Commonwealth introduces an awkward conundrum for the United States isn’t very diplomatic or polite (or is the word “politic”) for a country that appears to want to make the world over in its 250 year old democratic image and all the while maintain good relations with China. From what I have observed working under almost every conceivable political environment including a monarchy, benevolent dictatorship, military government, socialism, democracy and anarchy – a country has to be incredibly wealthy to afford the waste, (pork) that is inherent in a democracy. If you are not rich – you can’t afford it. I mentioned this in 1985 to the deputy director of China’s investment agency and his reply was, “Bill, we say the same thing in China.” Of course, diplomacy dedicates that the hard liners can’t come right out and say something to the effect, “we’re suspicious about the large numbers of mainland Chinese and their economic philosophy residing under the American flag in the Commonwealth.” So the human rights card is played to disguise the issue for the U. S. assuming control of immigration in the islands. Mind you, I don’t know this to be the case – I was just wondering if the concept has any merit.

Thinking out loud – you might say with no proof of the contention. Just exercising the freedom of thought – something the U. S. would like to see China allow more of among its citizens. For more than four hundred and fifty years the islands’ geography has been far more prominent in the affairs of western nations than their size and resources would appear to warrant. At least this has long been the prevailing belief among some islanders as well as American negotiators who, back in the seventies, successfully convinced policy makers at the Department of State of the Northern Marianas’ importance to American security in the Pacific and as a result received millions from the U. S. government as a result of the current relationship. One final thought, and at the risk of being accused a renegade, if it turns out that the CNMI loses domestic control of immigration perhaps consideration should be given to attempting to make a deal with U. S. authorities to the effect that the CNMI would agree to follow the method adopted with the Internal Revenue Service, namely, that the Commonwealth will adopt and administer U. S. immigration laws but under local U. S. citizen administration. That way the U. S. achieves its goal of having U. S, immigration laws in effect and the CNMI retains at least some semblance of self government. Either way the economy suffers but it may be the lesser of two eventualities in a “worst case scenario.”

Make no mistake about it, lose control of immigration and you lose most of the non resident worker population and the economy reverts back to a level around that of 1990 if not earlier. Even if government employment was reduced by one half to around 2,500 people there would still not be enough workers available to meet the needs of the non garment private sector. There-in lies the paradox. The federal government on one hand advocating private enterprise and the concept of capitalism and thwarting the effort on the other hand by stifling growth by placing a cap on the introduction of workers needed for a growing economy in the future.