More than seafood: Alaska eyes broader economic ties with China

Updated 2017-09-27 09:30:58 Xinhua

"People" are one of the things about China that has most impressed Bill Walker, governor of the U.S. state of Alaska.

With a population of around 750,000, Alaska sees the market it needs most in China's 1.4 billion people.

"It's impressive to see the number of people that are here in China," said Walker in a recent interview with Xinhua during his visit to Beijing. "What we need for our project is customers."

Walker was referring to a planned mega-project that involves an 800-mile (about 1,300 km) gas pipeline from the North Slope to south Alaska, where the gas can be liquefied and loaded into tankers for delivery to the Asian market.

He is in Beijing from Sunday to Thursday on his first trip to China as governor to explore broader economic ties with the country.

Seafood has been the staple of Alaska's economic cooperation with China, its largest trading partner. About 27 percent of Alaska's exports, largely seafood, end up in China.

Now the northernmost U.S. state, and the largest by area, wants to add more to its relationship with the world's second largest economy.

Walker frequently spoke of "opportunities" in cooperation with China. From seafood and natural gas to tourism and winter sports, the governor sees mutual benefits in a wide range of areas of cooperation.

ENERGY MATCH

"We have a tremendous opportunity in Alaska to bring liquefied natural gas (LNG) to China on a very long-term basis," he told Xinhua.

If Alaska were a country rather than a state, it would be the eighth most energy-rich nation in the world, Walker said.

A largely unexplored area, Alaska's North Slope has about 35 trillion cubic feet (991 billion cubic meters) of proven natural gas reserves.

The state-run LNG project, which Walker said is "ready to go," is estimated to cost more than 40 billion U.S. dollars and would export up to 20 million tonnes of LNG per year to overseas markets after completion.

The project is planned to come into service in 2024, when China is expected to see a rise in energy consumption, according to Walker.

"We can provide over 100 years of supply at a stable price not necessarily tied to the price of another commodity, oil or something else," he said. "So it's really an opportunity for both China and Alaska."

Compared with other places, Alaska can deliver LNG at a competitive price, as shipping and supply advantages offset higher pipeline costs, according to information provided by the governor's office.

Walker also welcomes Chinese investment in the project, as well as in the development of other resources, noting "a lot of opportunities for Chinese companies in Alaska."

Apart from natural gas, Alaska is also rich in oil, coal, lead, zinc, graphite and rare-earth deposits.

TRADE WAR UNWANTED

The LNG project, if built, would "definitely help with the trade imbalance" between China and the United States, Walker said.

Although the United States has a trade deficit with China, Alaska saw a trade surplus of 700 million U.S. dollars with the country in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

China has on many occasions stressed that it does not intentionally pursue a trade surplus with the United States, saying the imbalance was purely formed by market forces.

Walker expressed his concern over rising protectionism in the United States, saying Alaska is heavily dependent on its trade ties with Asia for its natural resources including fish, timber, mining and natural gas.

"We've seen that in the past, and we are very sensitive to that," he said when asked to comment on the protectionism inclination.

The governor believes a trade war between the two countries would hurt both sides, stressing the "two-way opportunity" in the bilateral trade ties.

"We hope there is not [a trade war]. We'll do what we can so there is not a trade war," he said. "I think there is an opportunity for both the United States and China, and specifically Alaska, to benefit from our respective needs."

GOOD CLIMATE

One of the highlights of Walker's trip was a China-U.S. investment roundtable on Monday, sponsored by China Investment Corporation, the country's sovereign wealth fund, and the China General Chamber of Commerce-USA.

Walker said he was pleased to talk about business opportunities with representatives of Chinese financial and energy institutions.

It was very "impressive" to see "the outreach from the Chinese government and the business community to bring investment to China and also seek opportunities for China to invest in projects in the United States," he told Xinhua.

The climate is good for economic cooperation between Alaska and China, and more positive changes occurred "almost immediately" after Chinese President Xi Jinping's brief stop in the state this April, according to the governor.

Xi met Walker while the Chinese delegation's plane made a refueling stop in Anchorage on April 7 on his return to China after meeting with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in Florida.

Alaska has seen an increase in tourism from China since Xi's trip, Walker said.

Work is proceeding on getting Chinese athletes to train in Alaska for the 2022 Winter Olympics and making direct flights available between Beijing and Alaska, he noted.

"We would very much like to make sure that visitors from China can come directly to Alaska," he said. "We're very excited about that opportunity."

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