Guam and Saipan, the largest islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, are both well-known destinations for Chinese tourists. However, in recent years, China’s malicious acts have affected both U.S. territories.
Guam, only about 1,500 miles from Japan, is home to roughly 7,000 U.S. military personnel, including a U.S. Navy attack submarine squadron, a ship repair facility, and a major U.S. Air Force base. More than once, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has rehearsed attacks on Guam. This is why the Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, has recently urged very strongly that the Senate approve the installation of the latest generation of the Aegis Ashore land-based anti-missile defense system in Guam to counter the Chinese missile threat.
Alexander B. Gray is a Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council. From 2018 to 2021, he served on the staff of the National Security Council, including as Director for Oceania & Indo-Pacific Security. He said, “I think with what the Chinese know about Guam, if they could, they would use the same thing they did with the Northern Mariana Islands on Guam which is to undermine the United States from within the U.S. overseas territories. If they could, that would include politically corrupt activities, malicious economic practices, and propaganda infiltration. So I would say that Guam itself is not only a military target. The U.S. must also think about how to protect the territory from infiltration by spies.”
The U.S. territories in the Pacific include Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and American Samoa. In the Caribbean are Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Additionally, the U.S. administers nine possessions in the Pacific and one disputed possession in the Caribbean (Navassa Island).
Gray cited the infamous scandal that broke on Saipan in 2018. That involved the Chinese-owned company Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd. committing alleged bribery and hiring illegal Chinese laborers to build a casino.
Bloomberg reported in 2018 that Saipan has become the most China-like U.S. territory. The island has become a mecca for Chinese money laundering due to the relaxation of restrictions on gaming investments due to fiscal issues. 2017 saw a Chinese illegal worker killed, protests over unpaid wages, and the FBI’s investigation.
“The CNMI, for instance, has been inundated by the “birth tourism” phenomenon emanating from China and encouraged by a parole visa program initiated under the Obama administration. Birth tourism has overwhelmed the CNMI’s medical capacity, and, in recent years, foreign births have exceeded native ones there. At the same, four of China’s largest construction firms and a major casino operator were found by U.S. authorities to be persistently paying local workers below the minimum wage.”
Gray published an article at Real Clear Defense, pointing out that “the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of all U.S. territories and possessions totals over 1.3 million square miles, with the U.S. possessions in the Pacific totaling over 750,000 square miles by themselves.” “China’s global approach to strategic competition has shown no signs of respecting U.S. territories or possessions, however. Indeed, given the relative neglect U.S. territories receive at the highest levels in official Washington, these small islands are even more vulnerable to Beijing’s predations.”
Gray suggested enlargement or establishing of a permanent base for the U.S. Coast Guard in Guam and American Samoa. “The U.S. Coast Guard is the entity most capable of enforcing U.S. sovereignty and safeguarding vital interests across the territories and possessions. Whether it is enforcing EEZs in the Minor Outlying Islands, preventing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing across the Pacific, or countering narcotics and human trafficking in the Caribbean, the Coast Guard is an essential tool in blunting Beijing’s assault on U.S. territories.”
“The NSC (National Security Council) could create a Director-level position responsible for integrating U.S. territories and possessions into the broader national security discussion across regional and functional areas. Having an official inside the White House complex directly accountable for the integrity of U.S. territories would generate needed energy across the U.S. government.”
Roughly 3.5 million Americans live in the five U.S. Territories as citizens or nationals. U.S. Census data indicates that the population of Puerto Rico alone (estimated at 3.2 million as of 2019) is larger than that of 20 states.
Source: Radio Free Asia, March 11, 2021
Real Clear Defense, March 11,