Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Alaska Governor Bill Walker

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by Genna Liu
Chinese President Xi Jinping, First Lady Peng Liyuan, Alaska Governor Bill Walker, and First Lady Donna Walker visited Beluga Point. [Image: Office of the Governor Bill Walker]

After meeting President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Alaska Governor Bill Walker during a refueling stop in Anchorage. Joined by Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott and Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, the leaders toured Turnagain Arm, a waterway by the Gulf of Alaska, and discussed cooperation over dinner at Hotel Captain Cook. Among the topics addressed were further collaboration in the mineral, oil, gas, fishery, and tourism industries, more exchanges in winter sports, and the strengthening of friendship and understanding among the people.

Acknowledging China as Alaska’s largest trading partner, Governor Walker expressed hopes to expand trade ties, especially in the energy sector. He presented the state’s new liquefied natural gas proposal, a project that would expedite the delivery and export of natural gas, and for which he is seeking financial backing. The president and governor also discussed opportunities for the Chinese Olympic teams to train in Alaska before the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.

President Xi believed that his visit could spike Chinese tourism in Alaska. Even before the visit, the state saw an increase in business appointments booked by Chinese tour operators. In China, a documentary on adventures in Alaska will be broadcasted to one billion viewers through the national television station. Travel is also becoming easier for Chinese tourists as airlines like Dynamic Airlines begin to add Alaska to their itineraries.

In 2016, Alaska exported $1.2 billion in seafood, minerals, oil, and other products and imported $449 million in intermediate goods from China. China is especially vital to Alaska’s seafood market because of the country’s large domestic demand and fish re-exporting industry. Accounting for 58% of the state’s exports to China, Alaska’s seafood export is expected to rise even more with Chinese e-commerce markets as a new channel of export.

In addition to trade, the two regions have ties in education and research. University of Alaska Anchorage partners with China’s Northeast Normal University and educates students in Chinese language and culture through its Confucius Institute. Every summer, the university sends students to China to study the Chinese economy, firms, markets, and export agencies.

During a recent talk in Washington DC, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan named LNG as the country’s geopolitical advantage and applauded the meeting between President Xi and Governor Walker. President Xi’s visit was preceded by the 2013 meeting between Ambassador Cui Tiankai and Alaska Senator Mark Begich. The ambassador applauded the strong connection between the two regions and called for additional collaboration and exchange.

Genna Liu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a government and economics student at Dartmouth College.