BE2C2 Report — After a couple of days of high-profile talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in which trade deficit was on the front burner, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a refueling stop in Alaska Friday night, using the time to meet with the governor who hoped will lead to an increased appetite in the world’s most populous nation for more natural resources from the US state northwest of Canada.
Chris Hladick, the commissioner of Alaska’s Commerce Department, told the Associated Press the meeting was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“We’re not even shown on the map for the United States,” he said, a nod to Alaska and Hawaii often being left off of maps of the US. “I think this is an extremely valuable opportunity to meet with our largest trade partner face to face.”
Governor Bill Walker was equally thrilled welcoming Xi in the state’s capital of Anchorage, where the two went on a brief sightseeing tour and spoke about Alaska’s trade ties with China.
The Governor and First Lady Donna Walker also hosted the Chinese president and his wife, China’s First Lady Madame Peng to dinner at the Crow’s Nest restaurant, which is atop the Captain Cook Hotel in scenic Anchorage city of Alaska, according to media outlets.
During the time Walker had with President Xi, he not only talked up the state’s oil, fish, air cargo, mineral, and tourism industries but specially advocated for his gasline, for which he is looking for financial backing.
Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer was able to make a pitch to the Chinese president about the gasline, Walker said.
“We have the opportunity to talk to them sovereign to sovereign. They could be a customer, they could be a financier, they could have a minority equity position. The entire value chain is available to them,” Walker said today during a press conference in Anchorage.
For Walker, even just a few hours of time with the president of the world’s largest country can pay dividends.
“It was a Chamber of Commerce day, if you will,” he said. “It was a beautiful day and they really enjoyed the time at Beluga Point.”
“He (Xi) referred to it as a Shangrilaska,” Walker said, adding that, according to Xi, Trump “made some very complimentary comments about Alaska and specifically the Alaska LNG project,” when meeting with Xi and his wife in Florida, Walker said. The governor did not elaborate further on what specifically Trump said and was not available for comment after the press conference ended.
According to reports, President Xi requested the meeting with Walker, who used the time to tout Alaska’s abundant natural resources and advocate for the gas pipeline that would facilitate export to China which has invited U.S. to participate in its ambitious One Belt One Road initiative and is willing to close the trade gap with investments, exports and provide access to U.S. companies to do business in China.
China is the state’s top export market, buying nearly US$1.2 billion worth of goods in 2016, according to the US Census Bureau. The next top international market was Japan, at nearly US$820 million, followed by South Korea, at US$730 million.
The state’s top export product to China? Fish, accounting for 58 percent. Frozen cod and flat fish, such as halibut, topped a lengthy list of fisheries products, which also included frozen salmon and pollock.
A distant second on the export list are minerals and ores, accounting for 27 percent. Included in that last year was about US$130 million of precious metals, which Hladick said was likely gold from the Fairbanks area.
Lower-tier exports included oil, wood, scrap metal and airplane parts.
Hladick sees China as a potential market for Alaska coal and hoped to raise the issue with Chinese officials during their visit. “It’s meetings like this that spark interest and then you follow up,” Hladick said.
Having your largest trade partner drop in for a meeting is fortuitous when the state is in tough financial straits because of a prolonged period of low oil prices. Hladick said he’d be happy to get a 45-minute meeting with the Chinese trade minister.
Walker has been courting Asian markets in trying to drum up interest in a liquefied natural gas project the state is pursuing. State officials wouldn’t say if Walker would bring up the natural gas pipeline with the Chinese, which is in its early stages, during his meet with Xi, but it seemed unlikely that he wouldn’t take time to tout the multi-billion dollar project that would take natural gas from Alaska’s North Slope to a plant on the state’s coast, where it would be liquefied and shipped.
Xi is the first Chinese President and second major world major to spend time in Alaska’s largest city.
King Harald V of Norway also made an official visit to Anchorage a few months before Obama used a three-day trip to Anchorage in 2015 to showcase the impact of climate change.
Alaska’s location provides a natural stopping point for world leaders to make refueling stops.
President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II met in 1984 during refueling stops at the airport in Fairbanks. Their paths were crossing as one finished and one began trips to Asia.
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