Alaska’s China trade mission wraps up with no big gasline news

Gov. Bill Walker talks strategy with one of his economic advisors, John Tichotsky, on Thursday, May 24, 2018, in Beijing, China. Walker’s administration is leading a 10-day trade mission to China with the hopes of increasing Alaska’s exports to the state. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Alaska’s trade delegation to China is headed home. The trip, called Opportunity Alaska, put several companies selling Alaska’s goods and services in front of Chinese investors and consumers.

Gov. Walker and state gasline corporation head Keith Meyer also pushed for support for the $45 billion Alaska LNG project.

Rashah McChesney from Alaska’s Energy Desk travelled with the delegation and has this update on the last leg of the trip.

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Interview highlights:

Shanghai is a beautiful city, but it is full of smog. Several members of the delegation have said that this is proof that China needs cleaner fuel, like Alaska’s LNG export project.

There hasn’t been any real news on that front, but the group did meet with Sinopec and Bank of China — both are very large potential funders and partners of the project.

And what happened in those meetings?

There’s this sort of ceremonial meeting that I’ve seen several times on this trip. The governor and his aides sit one side of the room, and whomever he’s meeting — and his aides — sit on the other. They face off and the two greet each other through interpreters and have these long discussions. They introduce their entourages, talk about the purpose of the visit, etc.

The Bank of China hosted a reception for the delegation — that’s the state-owned bank that could help finance the $45 billion pipeline project.

Walker and the delegation also met with Sinopec, the giant state-owned oil and gas company that could be a partner. And the president said that he looked forward to continuing to study the feasibility of the project with Alaska.

Then he said this: “After some of the work we did, in terms of assessment and evaluation in technology, economics and in terms of the resources of Sinopec — I think there’s a lot more work for us to be done than originally imagined.”

The Governor has always been so optimistic about the gasline. Is he saying this trip has changed that?

I have not yet had the chance to talk to the governor about what he thinks of those comments, but I don’t think so.  He and and several other members of the trade delegation say they are optimistic that this is the best time for the project to get built.

And apart from the gasline, what else is going on?

Well, there has been a lot of progress with the tourism companies that came here. China has a rapidly growing middle class and they’re spending a lot more on outdoor tourism than they used to which makes Alaska an attractive destination. There has been a surge in the number of Chinese visitors to Alaska in recent years.

There was also an agreement signed with Alaska Pacific University — working toward a partnership that would allow the Chinese Nordic Team to train at APU and vice versa — allowing Alaska’s team to prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which China is hosting.

I’m told a delegation from China will be in Alaska next month to look at the facilities; they’ll head up to Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood as well. This a big deal for both APU and Alyeska and could lead to an influx in students and tourists.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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