By Joe Murphy

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 3) - It almost seems to me that our mother country, the great USA, is discriminating against this island. That's not right. All the territories, commonwealths and other assorted entities deserve to be treated equally.

Sure, I guess the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands can be forgiven for taking advantage of the situation. They did, after all, have the brains to negotiate with the United States and come to an understanding about passports and immigration. Guam, for whatever reason, missed the boat on this.

This failure of Guam's leaders to negotiate for commonwealth status could wind up costing our island enormously in the future, when it comes to tourism.

Oh, I will admit that the United States isn't really a penny pincher when it comes to Guam. We get money for food stamps, housing, air traffic control, health, welfare, education and a wide variety of other aid and assistance - and the best part of this is that islanders contribute nothing in taxes to the feds.

So complaining about the CNMI having control of immigration and our lack of control may seem like a small thing.

Right now I'm thinking about the Chinese and the potential gold mine that 1.2 billion people eager to travel represents. Last month, a six-member delegation from the Guam Visitors Bureau attended the China International Travel Mart 2004 in Shanghai. This was the largest travel show in China, with something like 45,000 travel insiders in attendance. Some 2,900 exhibitors from 64 countries were there to cater to what is one of the most important tourism potential in the world today. China is in the midst of a significant boom, in trade and in travel.

Millions of Chinese have recently crossed the great divide into the middle class. They are now eager to travel and every statistic shows that. Ernie Galito, GVB's deputy general manager, said: "Our positioning to them is that Guam is the ideal resort getaway during the Chinese holiday season, such as the Lunar New Year in February." The Guam delegation hosted two product seminars before the fair opened. The GVB team also pitched to travel agency owners who specialize in short-haul leisure travel and in niche travel interests such as diving and adventure holidays.

The Chinese are traveling -- to Korea, Japan, Thailand and other neighboring countries. Just recently the Europeans announced that China has signed a $2.1 billion contract for Airbus jets. Earlier, the Chinese signed with Boeing for jet planes.

The enormity of the Chinese market has been spelled out. Galito has stated that Chinese tourists could spend as much as $10 million annually here.

Experts have predicted that outbound departures of Chinese tourists have averaged 12.47 percent a year growth since 1980. That figure should continue to grow.

It is scary, though, when the U.S. Defense Department, alarmed over the cases of human smuggling into Guam, tells the CNMI to bar Chinese tourists from Rota. This can't be good news for the Marianas.

GovGuam must quickly pursue the Guam-only visa-waiver for the Chinese while improving base security measures. The feds are now studying the Chinese visa-waiver. We must put pressure on them to allow the Chinese to travel to Guam, with few restrictions, just as they are allowed to do with our northern neighbors. To do otherwise would be discriminatory against Guam.

January 3, 2005

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News.

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