Gov. Bill Walker to travel to China with President Donald Trump

Gov. Bill Walker will be among the entourage of President Donald Trump as the president begins a trip to Asia this week.

Walker told reporters by telephone that he will fly with Trump’s group from Washington, D.C. to Hawaii, then travel ahead to Beijing, arriving days before the president. He will then rejoin the entourage.

Walker said a goal of the trip is signing some kind of deal to benefit the proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline project known as AKLNG.

“I would say this is probably the most significant opportunity we’ve had,” Walker said. “We’ve been over on our own trade missions, but to be part of a larger trade mission … it expresses a much higher attention to Alaska in doing this.”

Asked whether a deal is in the works, Walker said “it’s too soon to say.”

“We’ll see what happens in these final few days,” he added.

Walker and Keith Meyer, president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, are among 29 business leaders on a roster for the trip. The roster was first reported Thursday morning by CNBC’s Kayla Tausche and Tucker Higgins. Walker is the only state governor on the list.

Walker traveled to Washington, D.C. this week before the trip and to participate in Congressional hearings about oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

“It was a long day of hearings and testimony about opening up the 1002 area of ANWR for exploration,” Walker said. “We had a lot of discussion back and forth.”

On Friday morning, he will go to Andrews Air Force Base and board either Air Force One or the auxiliary aircraft that accompanies it on trips. That flight will take Walker and the president to Hawaii, where they will meet the governors of Hawaii, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam for a discussion on security in the Pacific.

Trump will fly to other parts of Asia before going to China. Walker will head to Beijing directly. He visited the country in 2008 with former Gov. Wally Hickel.

Meyer, meanwhile, has been in Asia off and on this year to market the proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline to potential customers. In an October briefing with legislators, AGDC board chairman Dave Cruz said Meyer’s mission is “to get us a gas customer.”

China has been a frequent stop for Meyer, and in a September interview with Xinhua, Meyer said Chinese backing of the pipeline would create “a very good marriage” and a very beautiful fit” between Alaska and China.

In October, Walker energy adviser John Hendrix told Reuters that China Investment Corp. and China’s state-owned energy company, Sinopec, have held talks with state officials. Sinopec proposed an Alaska liquefied natural gas project under Gov. Sarah Palin, but the state rejected the bid in favor of Canadian pipeline builder TransCanada. (Alaska subsequently bought out TransCanada’s share of the pipeline.)

Low natural gas prices have jeopardized the pipeline, which Walker has consistently backed. With Alaska running a $2.8 billion annual deficit, lawmakers have soured on the project, and economic analyses have said the project is not viable. A proposal by the Alaska Senate Majority to redirect money from the pipeline project narrowly failed earlier this year. As local opinions have shifted, the future of the pipeline has come to rely on the ability of AGDC to sign firm contracts with customers. If AGDC cannot find customers for gas from the pipeline, there likely will not be a pipeline.

Chinese President Xi Jinping briefly visited Anchorage in April while returning home from a summit with President Trump at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. During that visit, Walker made his pitch for a natural gas project. Partially reciprocating that visit, Alaska first lady Donna Walker traveled to China in June at the invitation of China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, who funded the trip.

Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.

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