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By Liberby Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 4) – Chinese tourists can stay in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas only up to seven days - possibly more if necessary or as recommended by their authorized travel agents, CNMI authorities said.

Attorney general Pamela Brown said yesterday that such provision, which is a departure from the usual 30-day visitor's permit, is embodied in the Approved Destination Status agreement that the CNMI and Chinese government officials signed on Dec. 30 in Beijing.

"If they meet the criteria, they are issued entry permits. Ideally they can only stay for seven days. They can be extended if agents ask us," said Brown.

At the same time, Brown assured that the CNMI can ably handle the influx of Chinese tourists, noting that tour group activities are strictly monitored by designated travel agents.

Right now, only two travel agents are authorized to bring in Chinese tourists: Century Travel Agency Inc. which has a tie up with Beijing-based Entai Enterprises, as well as Tinian Dynasty Travel.

Under the ADS agreement, she said, the responsibility to monitor tourist whereabouts rests mainly with the travel agents.

"The tourists only need to tell them where they are going and we expect the agents to find them and find them immediately," she said.

The official said the agents have put in "huge bonds" which they may forfeit if they do not fulfill their part of the bargain. "There's a substantial liability on the part of the agents," she said. She declined to reveal the bond amount.

Brown also expressed confidence that the CNMI's immigration control would be sufficient so as not to create problems for the U.S. government, which has always been ready to extend control over the CNMI immigration.

"Were trying to be very cautious. Both China and our side are very mindful of the fact that this is an exemption to the U.S. system, and therefore we better guard it well," said Brown.

She said the CNMI would work diligently not to give the U.S. government "another reason to come and try to federalize our immigration."

Federal officials earlier expressed concern over the CNMI's capability in handling more Chinese tourists amid fears that some of them may end up entering Guam illegally.

In yesterday's press conference at the Governor's Office, Brown disclosed that of about 40,000 Chinese tourists who entered the CNMI in the last two years, 14 had overstayed and three have not been found.

This figure, according to Brown, is "not bad," given the total number of travelers.

Gov. Juan N. Babauta also reiterated yesterday that there is no ban on Chinese tourists from going to Rota, the Northern Marianas island nearest Guam.

"They [Chinese tourists] are welcome to the CNMI. It means, they are welcome to Saipan, Tinian, and Rota," he said, disputing earlier claims that federal officials had wanted the CNMI to prohibit Chinese tourists from going to Rota due to its close proximity to Guam.

The ADS agreement assures Chinese tourists of a safe group travel arrangement and stay in the Commonwealth. The agreement provides that travels by Chinese tourists to the CNMI be done in groups.

The agreement provides that the Chinese delegation shall designate the travel agencies, which have been authorized by the China National Tourism Administration, to operate outbound travel and to organize outbound travel groups to the CNMI.

For its part, the CNMI shall recommend to CNTA "an appropriate number" of licensed, creditable, and competent travel agencies as the land operators for Chinese tour groups.

Concerned government agencies are required to monitor their designated travel agencies "to protect the legitimate rights and interests of tourists."

In case of any violation, penalties will be imposed on the relevant travel agencies based on local rules.

After three years of negotiation, the CNMI finally signed the ADS agreement last week with CNTA chair He Guangwei.

As a result of the agreement, the CNMI expects to receive some 50,000 Chinese tourists in 2005.

January 4, 2005

Saipan Tribune

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