SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — The cash-strapped Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Western Pacific, has offered to lease land to China as long as it is not used for military purposes.

Northern Marianas Governor Benigno Fitial made the offer during a US-China Governors Forum in Beijing this week which discussed potential investment and job creation opportunities.

In a statement released Saturday, Fitial said his island-lease offer referred to land in uninhabited islands which "can be leased except for military purposes."

The Northern Marianas already leases an island to the US military which uses it for regular live bombing exercises.

A self-governing commonwealth of the United States since 1976, the islands are in the grip of a severe budget crisis following the collapse of their garment industry.

In an attempt to combat the cash shortage all government departments are now shut every Friday, with essential exceptions such as the public hospital.

A spokesman for Fitial, Angel Demapan, said the governor wanted to do business with the Chinese to alleviate economic hardship.

Fitial pitched the Northern Marianas as a prime destination for Chinese tourism, real estate development, agricultural, education and technology investments.

In his statement, Fitial said the acting governor of the Chinese province of Yunnan, Li Jiheng, planned to make an exploratory visit to the islands, while Anhui Governor Wang Sanyun said he was committed to a partnership.

The Northern Marianas consists of 15 islands, with more than 90 percent of the population of 54,000 living on Saipan and only four other islands being populated.

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Photo by English: Abasaa 日本語: あばさー (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.