Could remote Marshall Islands nuclear wasteland become the 'next Hong Kong'?

More than 5,000 kilometres away from his home in the Marshall Islands, the Mayor of Rongelap atoll, James Matayoshi, addressed hundreds of entrepreneurs, government officials and politicians in Hong Kong.

There, at the Asia World Expo in April, he unveiled his grand design for Rongelap, a remote coral atoll of 61 islets that sits just 3 metres above sea level.

It would become the "Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region", a utopia for foreign investment with relaxed tax and visa requirements.

But its attractiveness to wealthy businesspeople would also fuel Mr Matayoshi's own dream - a new city rising out of a former nuclear wasteland, providing local jobs, housing and elevation from the encroaching waters of climate change.

'There is nothing here'

Rongelap was twice evacuated after extensive nuclear tests by the United States from 1946-1958 covered its people in clouds of radioactive white ash, burning them and poisoning them for generations to come.

The US Department of Energy has since given the green light for resettlement but many residents are reluctant to return, wary of a country which said it was safe to return in the 1970s despite lingering contamination.

Most of Rongelap's former population - along with other evacuated atolls in the Marshall Islands - is found in the capital Majuro, or nearby Ebeye, in the Kwajalein atoll.

"Right now, there is nothing here in the Marshall Islands, especially in the outer islands," Mr Matayoshi said in an interview.

A special status for Rongelap would bring it out of isolation and into the "globalised economy", attracting former residents as well as foreign investors, he said.

The proposed legislation is only in draft form and has yet to go before the country's Nitijela, or parliament.

A copy seen by the Marianas Business Journal said the bill will introduce tax incentives, a new tax-free shipping port and services for offshore companies registered in Rongelap.

Crucially for potential investors, the region would also be exempt from two financial provisions of Marshall Islands law, which would streamline funding for projects but has raised concerns it will lead to money laundering.

The proposed laws were confirmed to RNZ Pacific by Mr Matayoshi and John Masek, an attorney working on the project, but they declined to provide a copy of the draft bill, saying it was subject to changes.

Mr Matayoshi and Mr Masek denied that it would enable money laundering or other financial malpractice.

But their proposal - which was to be financed in part by the sale of gold until an investor recently pulled out - follows warnings last week from the International Monetary Fund against the adoption of a legal tender cryptocurrency in the Marshall Islands, after its parliament passed a law in February.

In March, the Marshall Islands was lifted out of an European Union tax haven black list to a "grey list", meaning it is still on notice to change its ways.

Citizenship for sale

The plans have sparked talk of passports for sale and an easy way to access the United States, through its Compact of Free Association agreement with the Marshall Islands.

The Marianas Business Journal reported the US Embassy in Majuro has raised concerns with the Marshall Islands government about the plan, after it received questions on whether the US government would recognise the region. The embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Environment Minister David Paul told the Journal that he had received requests to buy passports because of the bill. "This needs to be exposed. It is getting out of hand," he said. Mr Paul did not respond to interview requests.

Online advertisements on Chinese websites claimed as many as 1,000 houses pitched to investors in the proposed scheme have been "sold out".

"For [those] who has successfully ordered the houses, what you get is not only a house but to share the policy benefits of Rongelap Atoll Digital Special Administrative Region," one advertisement said.

Mr Matayoshi and Mr Masek said there were no plans to offer citizenship to visitors and nothing would be for sale until the bill had been passed by parliament.

"Any other speculation about us selling passports or trying to promote passport schemes is all fake news. All we're trying to do is make a more visitor-friendly environment," said Mr Masek.

The project's backers have teamed up with Chinese businessman Cary Yan, who is a Marshallese citizen and is helping to find investment partners, Kenneth Kedi, the parliamentary speaker, and Kessai Note, a former president of the Marshall Islands.

Together, they claim to want to replicate the success of commercial hubs like Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong in Rongelap, which spans 8 square kilometres of mostly ocean.

For Mr Kedi, Hong Kong is a blueprint for Rongelap in more ways than one.

"Through the unique 'one country, two systems', Hong Kong has become China's re-export base and a global financial center in opening up the economy," he told the April expo in Hong Kong, according to the China Daily.

"Hong Kong's success model offers a good reference for the Marshall Islands."

- Reporting by RNZ's Mackenzie Smith

rnz.co.nz

Rongelap Island, one of the Marshall Islands group. Source: rnz.co.nz


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Man killed by falling tree - the first reported death as Hurricane Michael batters Florida

The first reported fatality from Hurricane Michael has been confirmed after a man was killed by a falling tree.

The incident took place in Gadsden County, Florida as the Category-4 storm tore through the state this morning, NZT.

A spokesperson for the Gadsden County Sheriff's office told The Guardian they received a call about 11am NZT (6pm local) reporting the death.

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For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

Officials have not released the man's name.

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'Babysitting while black' - police called on African American man babysitting white children

Police were called to a residence in Cobb County in the US state of Georgia, after a white woman reported a black man for babysitting two white children.

As he shopped while babysitting the children of David Parker and Dana Mango, Corey Lewis was stopped by a woman and asked if the children were okay.

"We then left to go get gas, she moved closer and waited there," said Mr Lewis.

The woman then returned later to ask if she could speak to the children, before Mr Lewis said no, leading to the police being called.

Mr Lewis then returned home, before Cobb County Police showed up.

The officer questioned the 10-year-old and the 6-year-old before calling their parents.

"I said are you saying that because there's an African American male driving my two white kids, that he was stopped and pulled over and questioned and he said I'm sorry ma'am that’s exactly what I'm saying," Mango told CBS46.

The parents confirmed to CBS46 that Mr Lewis had been arranged to babysit weeks ago, with their son part of his mentoring programme, 'Inspired by Lewis.'

"B-W-B which I guess is the new thing, babysitting while black," said the father.

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Tsunami warning cancelled after 7.0 magnitude Papua New Guinea earthquake

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake has struck Papua New Guinea's New Britain Island today.

The quake, at a depth of 39.5km, was centred around 200km southwest of Rabul just before 10am NZT.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre initially said hazardous waves were possible for coasts within 300km of the quake's epicentre, but now say the threat has passed.

There are no immediate reports of damage.

Earthquake.
(file picture). Source: 1 NEWS


US stocks suffer worst loss in eight months as tech companies plunge

US stocks plunged to their worst loss in eight months today as technology companies continued to drop. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 831 points.

The losses were widespread, and stocks that have been the biggest winners on the market the last few years, including technology companies and retailers, suffered steep declines. Apple and Amazon both had their worst day in two and a half years.

The Nasdaq composite, which has a high concentration of technology companies, had its biggest loss in more than two years.

Alec Young, managing director of global markets research at FTSE Russell, said investors fear that rising interest rates and growing expenses are going to erode company profits next year.

"The tax cuts juiced earnings this year and that's not sustainable," he said. "The market's starting to say that the glass may be half empty."

The S&P 500 index sank 94.66 points, or 3.3 percent, to 2,785.68. The benchmark index fell for the fifth straight day, which hadn't happened since just before the 2016 presidential election.

The Nasdaq composite tumbled 315.97 points, or 4.1 percent, to 7,422.05. It's fallen 7.5 percent in just five days.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up 831.83 points, or 3.1 percent, to 25,598.74. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks shed 46.45 points, or 2.9 percent, to 1,575.41.

After a long stretch of relative calm, the stock market has suffered sharp losses over the last week as bond yields surged. Stocks had come close to big drops in the last few days, but each time they recovered some of their losses. That didn't happen Wednesday as stocks fell further late in the day.

Apple gave up 4.6 percent to $US216.36 and Microsoft dropped 5.4 percent to $US106.16. Amazon skidded 6.2 percent to $US1,755.25.

Industrial and internet companies also fell hard. Boeing lost 4.7 percent to $US367.57 and Alphabet, Google's parent company, gave up 4.6 percent to $US1,092.16.

Insurance companies dropped as Hurricane Michael continued to gather strength and came ashore in Florida bringing winds of up to 155 miles an hour. Berkshire Hathaway dipped 4.7 percent to $213.10 and reinsurer Everest Re slid 5.1 percent to $US217.73.

Luxury retailers tumbled after LVMH, the parent of Louis Vuitton, said its sales growth in China slowed. Tiffany plunged 10.2 percent to $US110.38 and Ralph Lauren fell 8.4 percent to $US116.96.

The biggest driver for the market over the last week has been interest rates, which began spurting higher following several encouraging reports on the economy. Higher rates can slow economic growth, erode corporate profits and make investors less willing to pay high prices for stocks.

The 10-year Treasury yield remained at 3.20 percent, about where it was late Tuesday, after earlier touching 3.24 percent. It was at just 3.05 percent early last week and 2.82 percent in late August.

Technology and internet-based companies are known for their high profit margins, and many have reported explosive growth in recent years, with corresponding gains in their stock prices.

Gina Martin Adams, chief equity strategist for Bloomberg Intelligence, said the stocks have become more volatile in the last few months because investors have concerns about their future profitability.

"Amazon recently announced they were increasing wages, Facebook is spending a ton on security," she said. "Semiconductors have the most exposure to China out of segments in the S&P 500."

Sears Holdings nosedived after the Wall Street Journal reported that the struggling retailer hired an advisory firm to prepare a bankruptcy filing that could come within days. The stock fell 16.8 percent to 49 cents. It was more than $US40 five years ago.

Sears has closed hundreds of stores and sold several famous brands or put them on the block as it sees more customers abandon its stores.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 2.4 percent to $US73.17 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 2.2 percent to $US83.09 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline shed 2.7 percent to $US2.02 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.2 percent to $US2.39 a gallon. Natural gas rose 0.6 percent to $US3.28 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose 0.2 percent to $US1,193.40 an ounce. Silver dipped 0.5 percent to $US14.33 an ounce. Copper fell 0.9 percent to $US2.78 a pound.

Japan's Nikkei 225 added 0.2 percent, South Korea's Kospi dropped 1.1 percent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 0.1 percent.
The CAC 40 in France dropped 2.1 percent, Germany's DAX lost 2.2 percent and the FTSE 100 in London fell 1.3 percent.

Stocks from emerging markets were also hard hit. Investors see many of these countries as being vulnerable to higher U.S. interest rates, which can pull away investment dollars. Brazil's Bovespa lost 2.5 percent and the Merval in Argentina sank 2.2 percent.

The dollar fell to 112.59 Japanese yen from 113.05 yen late Tuesday. The euro rose to $US1.1525 from $US1.1496. The British pound rose to $US1.3197 from $US1.3146.

FILE- This Jan. 4, 2018, file photo shows the interior of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
The interior of the New York Stock Exchange. Source: Associated Press