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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 24, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---Local officials have begun talks with executives of a Chinese airline which may provide direct flights between the People's Republic of China and the Northern Marianas.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio told reporters he met yesterday morning with representatives of China Eastern to iron out details on how the carrier can begin to offer service to the island.

"They are interested in direct flight out of China to the CNMI [but they need to] meet several requirements before proceeding in providing service here," he told reporters, without elaborating.

The CNMI government has been trying to tap the huge number of potential tourists from the Peoples Republic of China (PROC), but the efforts have been hampered by local immigration laws which bar entry of nationals from that country.

The Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) also has discussed with the Department of Labor and Immigration (DOLI) the possibility of allowing Chinese tourists to come here in a move to expand its market base.

DOLI has suspended indefinitely the issuance of entry permits to PROC citizens after Chinese officials refused to cooperate in accepting the return of its nationals deported from the Commonwealth.

So far, PROC nationals who have traveled to Europe, the U.S. and Australia and still with a valid passport will no longer be required to get an ATB or the authorization to board when they travel to the CNMI.

Largely an untapped market for the global travel industry, China has the potential of becoming the next big source of tourists for the CNMI after Japan and Korea, the island's traditional markets for close to three decades.

The beleaguered Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino is also relying on the Chinese market as officials hope to obtain direct charter flights to bring the visitors from PROC to the island-municipality of Tinian.

CNMI officials, at the same time, have been eyeing direct flights between Taiwan and Saipan. Talks have been held recently with at least two carriers, Mandarin and China Air, to provide services for the emerging Taiwanese market.

The Commonwealth wants to expand its tourist markets as both Japan and Korea proved to be unstable during the last two years as a result of the Asian economic crisis.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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