The subtle art of influence – China’s strategic engagement in the CNMI

Glen Hunter

By Glen Hunter

China’s growing presence in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) cannot be ignored. Using strategic capitalist methods, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been making calculated moves to establish a stronghold in various islands across the Pacific. The CNMI is a prime example of this creeping influence, showing the long-term consequences when Chinese involvement goes unchecked. By offering economic incentives and forming partnerships with influential local figures, China aims to sway public opinion and influence key decision-making processes in these island communities.

China’s approach is characterized by patience and a long-term vision. By investing in infrastructure, tourism, and real estate, the CCP has managed to gain a foothold in these regions. These investments often come with collaborations with local influencers who play pivotal roles in promoting Chinese projects within their communities.

A primary tactic involves partnering with local influencers to promote Chinese interests and projects. Through these alliances, China seeks to gain credibility and support among residents, ultimately shaping their perceptions of China as a beneficial ally. By aligning with key local figures, China portrays itself as a benefactor, providing much-needed economic opportunities and development projects. Over time, this strategy aims to cultivate a sense of dependency and trust towards China among the local populace.

Influential community leaders, industry groups, media, business owners, and politicians are instrumental in shaping public opinion favorably towards China. The CCP identifies and builds relationships with individuals in significant positions within community groups on the islands. By supporting these individuals, China aims to co-opt entire groups into aligning with its agenda, portraying itself as a savior for the region.

China’s influence extends beyond economics into the political arena. CCP-backed businesses strategically steer various industries towards reliance on Chinese resources and expertise. This gradual shift not only cements China’s economic influence but also allows for subtle political manipulation. By dominating key sectors, China can suppress dissenting voices and reshape public opinion to align with its interests.

Over the past few decades, Chinese influence has permeated key industries such as garment manufacturing, real estate, hospitality, and casino gaming in the CNMI. While these industries have brought some economic prosperity, they also highlight the complex balance between benefiting from Chinese investment and maintaining geopolitical stability and the islands’ integrity.

The tourism sector in the CNMI had notably shifted towards reliance on Chinese visitors before the pandemic, with less focus on diversifying into other markets. This shift reflects growing Chinese influence in shaping the tourism landscape of the CNMI.

Interestingly, groups and influencers in the CNMI have transitioned over the past decade to oppose military development due to concerns about environmental damage and cultural loss. However, these same influencers have readily embraced large-scale investments backed by the CCP, such as garment factories and casinos, without expressing similar concerns about potential societal, environmental, and cultural impacts on the islands.

This double standard highlights a paradoxical stance where resistance is shown against U.S. military presence due to perceived negative consequences while simultaneously endorsing extensive Chinese enterprise development without similar scrutiny. Such contrasting reactions underscore the complex interplay of geopolitical influences and economic interests that shape public sentiment and decision-making processes in the CNMI.

The recent pandemic and blatant public corruption of the last administration have allowed for a shift in CNMI’s political landscape, pivoting away from China. This signifies a potential reevaluation of external alignments. This change reflects growing concerns over the long-term consequences of deep-rooted Chinese influence and underscores the importance of balancing economic benefits with political autonomy to ensure sovereignty and independence amidst foreign engagements.

We are witnessing the persistence of CCP-influenced individuals, businesses, and groups today. Despite the negative impacts experienced over the past few years due to over-reliance on China, there are still calls for the current administration to allocate resources towards regaining access to the Chinese market. Given the regional geopolitical dynamics, there is a strong possibility that access to Chinese tourism could once again cease in the near future. This is a tangible reality, not a remote possibility. Evaluating risk suggests that investing in redeveloping the China market for tourism could be a high-risk endeavor for sustainable tourism in the CNMI. It raises the question of why this concern is not more prominent among those advocating for renewed focus on the China market for tourism.

Groups like the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI), when dealing with low tourism numbers, have chosen to focus on China-centric initiatives like EVS-TAP and Annex VI provision rather than addressing critical factors affecting access to other markets, reducing regional airfare prices, or pushing for cabotage waivers. This focus suggests an alignment with broader CCP strategies that prioritize regulatory frameworks favorable to Chinese tourism over diversified approaches that might reduce dependency on any single market.

The CNMI must adopt a proactive approach to decision-making. While economic incentives from China can bring immediate benefits, it’s crucial to assess long-term implications on political autonomy and regional stability. This reliance raises concerns about the sustainability and resilience of the CNMI’s tourism industry amidst geopolitical shifts or economic fluctuations. Strategic planning and careful consideration of external partnerships are essential to safeguarding national interests.

Given this backdrop, federal intervention is crucial to counteract any push towards reestablishing overly dependent ties with China. Funding opportunities should be directed toward diversifying economic partnerships and bolstering industries that can thrive independently of Chinese investment. Policy adjustments are necessary to encourage local businesses to explore alternative markets and reduce reliance on a single foreign investment partner.

Additionally, resources must be allocated towards strengthening political autonomy and ensuring local governance is free from undue foreign influence. This includes supporting transparency initiatives and anti-corruption measures that can prevent foreign entities from co-opting local leaders.

Economic security is fundamental for establishing national security in this region. Without stable economic foundations free from over-reliance on any one nation, political autonomy and regional stability cannot be assured. Ensuring CNMI’s economic stability through diversified investments and robust policy frameworks is essential for safeguarding national sovereignty.

China’s engagement in the CNMI showcases a sophisticated blend of economic and political tactics aimed at establishing influence. By leveraging economic incentives and collaborating with local influencers, China seeks to reshape public opinion and align local interests with its own. The case study of CNMI exemplifies the complexities involved in balancing economic prosperity with geopolitical stability.

As Pacific island nations continue to engage with external powers, maintaining a balance between economic benefits and political autonomy will be crucial to preserving sovereignty and independence. The Federal Government’s role in providing funding opportunities, policy adjustments, and resources is vital to counteract China’s influence and ensure long-term stability for regions like ours here in the CNMI. Furthermore, the federal government must fully support our current Administration, that is publicly pivoting away from China, thereby reinforcing our commitment to diversified economic growth and national security.


Glen Hunter is the governor’s special assistant for broadband policy and development. He is a resident of Saipan, a businessman, and a longtime outspoken critic of corrupt practices by CNMI politicians.


  • Just to clarify… I’m not against China. Just don’t see the logic in putting our limited resources and efforts towards regaining the China market when there is a very plausible chance of having it impaired by forces outside of our control yet again.

    I mean, we are dealing with that exact type of situation right now.

    I am shocked but not surprised at the ‘China or Bust’ stances held by some in our community.

    Also, important to note, that this administration has done nothing to halt or stop tourist from China coming to the CNMI legally. Not one regulation or law was imposed by this administration to stop that.

    I would also like to add that the current governor’s decision to pivot away from China is a bold and necessary move, reflecting a commitment to reshaping the CNMI’s economic and political landscape. For decades, the region’s dependence on Chinese investments has created vulnerabilities that have been exploited both internally and externally. By shifting away from this overreliance, the governor is signaling a desire to pursue more diversified and sustainable economic partnerships.

    This pivot is significant for several reasons: it reduces vulnerability by moving away from heavy dependence on Chinese investments, thereby reducing the CNMI’s exposure to external economic pressures and potential political influence. It encourages diverse investments by opening doors for attracting investments from a broader array of countries and industries, which can foster a more resilient economy, less subject to the fluctuations and policies of any single foreign power. It promotes good governance by aligning with efforts to address internal corruption and promote transparency, paving the way for a governance model that prioritizes accountability and integrity. It strengthens federal relations by demonstrating a commitment to reducing Chinese influence, which can facilitate increased federal support and investment in the region.

    However, this strategic shift requires substantial support to be successful. Federal assistance is crucial to fund infrastructure and development, as diversifying the economy needs substantial investment in new infrastructure and development projects. Federal funds can provide this support, ensuring that the CNMI can build a robust, multifaceted economy. Support for institutional reforms is also needed, as efforts to combat corruption and promote good governance require resources for capacity building and institutional strengthening. Federal assistance can help implement these reforms more effectively. Additionally, enhancing strategic security is important, as the CNMI’s strategic location makes it an important player in regional security dynamics. Federal support can enhance the region’s ability to contribute to broader US strategic goals in the Pacific while ensuring its own security and stability.

    Aside from financial support, the CNMI can also benefit from federal support in terms of policy and regulations. We should seek advocacy and assistance for inclusion in the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, exemptions from cabotage laws, inclusion of the Philippines in our existing Guam/CNMI Visa Waiver Program, and other measures that can help us revive our economy.
    Additionally, holding corrupt individuals responsible for squandering $1.2 billion of FEMA and ARPA funds meant to help the ailing economy is still very much needed. The governor has personally requested full support from the federal government to ensure accountability and justice. This step is crucial to restoring public trust and ensuring that future aid is used effectively for its intended purposes.

    If the economy does not improve within the next few years, the outcome will be the reverse and and an incredible snap-back will occur. Instead of moving away from Chinese influence, the CNMI may find itself compelled to fully embrace China’s support and development once again, as a desperate measure to revive its struggling economy. This would undermine the governor’s current efforts and potentially deepen the region’s vulnerabilities.

    The governor’s pivot away from China is a step towards a more self-reliant, transparent, and robust future for the CNMI. However, to realize this vision fully, federal support remains indispensable. By working together, addressing corruption, and ensuring proper use of funds, the CNMI and the federal government can create a more secure and prosperous future for the region.

    • They call me Joe

        05/26/2024 at 10:36 AM

      Re: Glen

      Put your apron back on and go back to wiping the counter down with a rag. Stick to what you know best (i.e., – serving coffee and taking menu orders)

      My opinion.

  • I don’t mind the Chinese presence one bit, because they are smart.

    Our lawmakers have a collective I.Q. of a soccer ball.

  • This article is full of fluff. Concepts are presented but no hard convincing evidence is presented. No convincing alternatives are presented, just concepts and ideas. Probably out of a textbook.
    You are the Governor’s special assistant. Sounds about right. You draft policies and so on but no practical results are visible. Typical politician. This article will achieve the same outcome. Congratulations on the word count, a lengthy article.

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