At least three U.S senators want to know the extent of China’s influence in the CNMI.

At the U.S Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing Tuesday in Washington, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig was asked questions about labor violations involving Chinese companies, “birth tourism,” and China’s “moves in the Pacific.”

“I want to… ask about some of the immigration policies there and the influence of China, in specific, and what’s happening in the islands,” Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma said.

“What are you seeing in terms of traffic, individuals, and such coming in to the islands at this point from China?” he asked Atalig who represented Governor Ralph DLG Torres.

Atalig stated that the CNMI has received no tourists from China in light of the pandemic.

Lankford then asked about the influx of individuals from China into the CNMI before the pandemic.

“So go back to 2019 and before,” he added, “because we saw a pretty rapid rise of Chinese nationals’ construction. I know that there were several different challenges with labour laws being violated with the 45-day visa process to be able to come from China. We saw some Chinese companies coming in and doing construction, bringing in Chinese nationals, not paying them basic wages there, and then moving back and forth. What do you anticipate happens once we get to the other side of [Covid-19] — when that day comes, what do you anticipate happens? Will we return right back to that again?”

Atalig said no, the CNMI would not.

“This pandemic allowed us to revisit a lot of the policies we have as a Commonwealth,” he said, “and one of the issues is in our tourism sector, obviously. We had issues with unregistered AirBnBs, attracting foreigners coming in… Working closely with the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers that are looking at different policies and issues to correct things, it gives us an opportunity to reset and make some policy decisions to better and to improve on some of those policy issues.”

Lankford then asked about Chinese nationals arriving in the CNMI to give birth.

Atalig said the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp has increased the costs for foreigners utilizing local healthcare services, including maternal health.

But he said there is also a need for U.S immigration policy changes to further strengthen border control.

“Birth tourism” is also a concern in the states.

Republican Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas, for his part, asked if the CNMI was concerned about China’s moves in the Pacific.

He said China might try to build military installations or expand illegal fishing in the region.

“We’re under the U.S flag, so we seek [your] assistance, and we continue to build on our partnerships [with federal agencies],” Atalig replied.

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said the influence and presence of China in the Indo-Pacific region is especially evident in the CNMI.

Atalig said China’s presence in the CNMI was tourism-related.

“They had quite a presence,” Hirono said, “and I think that they were bringing gaming into the CNMI. At the same time, because of our relationship with the CNMI, I believe that we are negotiating with the CNMI for military training facilities [there]. Is that happening?”

Atalig said as part of the military buildup on Guam, there have been negotiations between the U.S military and the CNMI, and these included a divert airfield on Tinian whose construction will begin soon.

Atalig also said that he would share the U.S senators’ concerns with the CNMI leadership who could provide more answers.

Chaired by Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.V., the committee said it held the hearing to examine the state of the territories in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.