Following Trump visit, Chinese president stops in Anchorage to meet with Walker

Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan arrive in Anchorage. They were greeted by Governor Walker and Lt. Gov. Mallott. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

By Elizabeth Harball and Wesley Early

UPDATE, 1:30 p.m. Saturday – by Elizabeth Harball:

Gov. Bill Walker said he discussed issues ranging from Alaska’s long-proposed gas line project to the state’s potential as a winter training spot for Chinese Olympic athletes with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the head of state’s short stop in Anchorage on Friday.

Walker described the meeting during a press conference Saturday morning.

“It was a very special moment for me,” the governor said, adding that he and his delegation had the opportunity to meet not only with Xi, but also with 14 high-level ministers in the Chinese government. “If we had traveled to China, we could not have had a meeting like this.”

Press Conference: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Alaska from Alaska Governor Bill Walker on Vimeo.

Walker said the conversation — during their meeting and the salmon dinner that followed — mainly focused on trade, including Alaska’s fisheries, tourism, air cargo services and the massive natural gas pipeline project the governor is pushing to build.

“We are somewhat a good fit with China on natural resources,” Walker said. “We have way more energy than people, and they have way more people than they have energy. So our excesses are somewhat complementary.”

Walker said Xi mentioned President Donald Trump also brought up the gas line project during the leaders’ two-day meeting in Florida this week. The Walker administration hasn’t previously emphasized China as a major target of its efforts to market the gas line, which have instead focused on Japan and South Korea.

Xi also broached the subject of climate change, Walker said.

“Certainly it appears that there’s a strong interest in China as far as what to do on climate change,” Walker said. “It appears with the shift from the U.S., perhaps a bit less,” Walker added, referring to the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back Obama-era climate initiatives. ”They [China] may be taking over that position on leading on that.”

One topic that didn’t come up: North Korea. That nation has conducted missile tests in recent days, but Walker said the conversation remained focused on “Alaskan issues.”

“As Governor of a state, we stuck to topics I have an impact on,” Walker said.

That apparently included the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Walker said Xi expressed an interest in having Chinese athletes train in Alaska.

At the close of the conference, a reporter who identified himself as a Taiwanese-Alaskan blogger asked a series of questions about the internationally contentious topic of Taiwan’s political status.

“You want to develop indigenous lands so China’s authoritarian government can turn a profit. How do you justify that?” the blogger asked.

The governor didn’t answer the question, and the press conference ended.

UPDATE, 10 p.m. Friday – by Elizabeth Harball:

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Gov. Bill Walker Friday evening at the Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage. Xi made the surprise visit to Alaska on his way home from a summit with President Donald Trump in Florida.

The governor took the opportunity to tout the state’s effort to build a major natural gas pipeline from the North Slope. During a photo-op with President Xi before the meeting, Walker spoke extensively about the project.

“Alaska can provide China with a new and reliable source of LNG [liquified natural gas], a strategic investment in the U.S. of A [and] an opportunity to participate in a regionally strategic infrastructure project,” Walker said during public remarks.

Chinese president Xi Jinping met with Alaska Gov. Bill Walker during a short visit to Anchorage on April 7, 2017. Xi stopped in Alaska on his way home from a summit with President Donald Trump in Florida. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

“This project can address the balance of trade issue, [and] provide a clean source of energy to China for a generation,” the governor added. “The project is a 20-million-ton project that can replace 50 million tons of coal.”

In his own brief remarks, Xi acknowledged Alaska as an economic partner, but mainly focused on the state’s natural beauty.

“In the eyes of many of the Chinese people, Alaska is a land that brings a lot of mystery in our minds and it is a place where our people like to go – it’s like Shangri-la to us,” Xi said through an interpreter.

“The very fact that we have now been here, I believe, will serve as a good advertisement for your state,” Xi said. “I believe there might be a boom of Chinese visitors traveling to your state as tourists — I will be happy to see that if that is true.”

Neither leader took questions from the press during Friday evening’s meeting, and reporters were ushered out as the Chinese president was speaking. The governor’s office has announced that Walker will hold a press conference Saturday morning to discuss the visit.

Before the meeting, Xi and his delegation drove down the Seward Highway to take in the view from Beluga Point on Turnagain Arm, south of Anchorage. Alaska State Troopers and the Anchorage Police Department closed a portion of the the Seward Highway for about 30 minutes to accommodate the visit.

ORIGINAL STORY, 6:50 p.m. Friday – by Wesley Early

Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in Anchorage today after meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Xi is scheduled to meet with Gov. Bill Walker this evening.

Members of the Chinese media and other passengers deplane from President Xi Jinping’s plane. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Xi was accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, and greeted at Ted Stevens International Airport by the governor and First Lady Donna Walker, along with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and his wife Toni.

The Chinese government informed Walker that Xi would be stopping in Anchorage about a month ago, and requested a meeting, the governor’s office said.

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s plane as it arrived at Ted Stevens International Airport (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

“China is one of our largest trading partners, and I am eager to tell President Xi about the abundance of Alaska’s resource development opportunities,” Walker said in a press release. “We have tremendous potential in our oil and gas, tourism, fish, air cargo and mineral resource industries.”

Walker and Xi will hold their meeting at the Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage.

Check back for more – this story will be updated.