Bloomberg News

Northern Mariana Governor Offers to Lease Islands to China

October 19, 2011

(Adds quotes in fourth paragraph.)

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The governor of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean, said he is willing to lease some of the islands to China as long as it’s not for military purposes.

“If you are interested, I am offering these islands to China,” Governor Benigno Fitial told a group of Chinese governors and provincial Communist Party Secretaries at a conference in Beijing. “Lease these islands so that I can have enough financial resources to provide for more full employment for my people.”

There are 15 islands in the Northern Marianas with a total population of 46,050, the biggest of which is Saipan, according to the CIA World Factbook. There are 10 uninhabited islands available for lease, and he has the right to lease them to “anybody,” Fitial said in an interview after his remarks.

“We control the islands, the islands belong to us,” he said. “We have to make sure in the lease agreement that we won’t allow anything that will be military because we are under the U.S. government.”

U.S. State Department Under Secretary Robert Hormats said at the same conference that he hadn’t heard of such a proposal and didn’t know if there were any legal barriers to such a move. The Northern Marianas became a U.S. territory in 1976. Its residents are American citizens who aren’t eligible to vote in U.S. elections. Fitial became governor in 2006.

--Michael Forsythe. Editors: John Brinsley, Patrick Harrington

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Forsythe in Beijing at mforsythe@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Brinsley at jbrinsley@bloomberg.net


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