Legislators got their first opportunity on Monday night to review the natural gas pipeline deal Gov. Bill Walker inked with China as part of President Donald Trump’s trade mission to Asia. There’s been plenty of unknowns and questions about the deal, but most of the meeting was spent asking about rumors and conspiracies about “The Chinese.”
Republican Reps. Dan Saddler and Lance Pruitt led the charge in questioning the involvement of China with the gasline deal, questioning whether or not the “current governor” had essentially sold Alaska out to the communist country.
That’s not to say that there weren’t relevant, pressing questions asked by legislators, including by both Pruitt and Saddler. But this was a meeting where the number of times and the odd emphasis put on the phrase “The Chinese” (by almost everyone at the meeting) began to draw attention, so let’s look at some of the most loaded exchanges.
Do ‘The Chinese’ get 75 percent of the work?
Saddler questioned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer multiple times on whether or not the agreements will result in thousands of Chinese workers being shipped over to Alaska to build the pipeline.
“Does the financing come with the proviso that the Chinese would get 75 percent of the work?” he asked.
“No, it does not come with that requirement,” Meyer replied.
But it didn’t stop there. Later, Saddler asked for a pledge against such actions.
“There is no agreement yet, so I guess here’s an opportunity for you commit to us now that any future final agreement would not allow China to get a significant percentage of the contracting and labor work in Alaska,” he said.
“They would certainly not have a majority involvement, that would be impractical,” Meyer said, before explaining that not all the work can go to Alaskans, either, because there’ll simply be too much work. “The labor requirement for construction is going to severely stress Alaska, so labor has to come from outside Alaska somewhere. … I would expect Alaskan contractors to have a degree of priority. I would not expect Chinese companies to come in with a bunch of labor. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that would be permitted even if we wanted it to happen.”
China’s trade colony
Pruitt said he was concerned about Alaska becoming China’s property.
“I don’t think there’s an issue with partnering and selling to China. I think the concern that I have is what seems like almost allowing them to come in and own our state,” he said. “Or at least have such a large stake in it that we put so many eggs in their basket that so we’re not a partner, but almost seen as a vassal. Remember, Alaska has a long history of being concerned about being treated like a colony. We have a struggle being treated as a colony. I don’t want to be treated as a colony by the Chinese.”
This was more of a statement than a question.
A secret geopolitical plot?
And finally, here was the most baffling exchange that we’ve heard in a House Resource Committee meeting in a while (which is saying something).
“I want to put a finer point on it,” began Saddler. “Does it bother you to be proposing a deal with China? Our government has described them as an authoritarian regime, China has been militarizing to deny Western forces access to the southeast Asian oceans and restrict free trade, this the patron state of North Korea who’s been threatening to, you know, turn our homeland into a cinder, they execute prisoners to harvest organs and they’ve enforced their one child policy with forced abortions. On a moral basis does it bother you to be dealing with China?”
Before letting Meyer answer the question (spoiler: he said no), Saddler went on to explain his reasoning.
“I think China is playing a long-term global political game. They seek to supply rare-earth minerals, seek to control rare-earth mineral supplies and coal and gas and oil. They have controlled access points to the Panama Canal,” he said. “From our standpoint the state of Alaska and our current governor are playing an economic and political game to get a gasline that he sees as our economic savior at any cost.”
(Side note: Saddler’s specific reference to “our current” governor perhaps says more about the Republican attitude toward the gas line than his hand-wringing over China’s human rights violations. How would they feel if it was our dear old leader Sean Parnell at the helm of this deal?)
He finished, letting Meyer know that “I wish we were proposing a deal more with South Korea or with Japan or India or even Vietnam.”
Meyer’s response was pretty blunt.
“No it doesn’t. You’ve dug into history and we have our own history as well. They are your largest customer. China is your largest customer today, alright. They are the largest trade partner of Alaska, full stop,” he said. “I think they’ve been a good customer and we’ve certainly welcomed them in the seafood and the minerals. This is an extension of that relationship. Does it bother me? No. Does it bother the United States? No, that’s why they had the trade mission. That’s why (U.S. Secretary of Commerce) Wilbur Ross led this trade mission and why we had so much support in Washington.”
Meyer also gave the fretting legislators a little bit of a lesson in international geopolitics: selling another country a large chunk of its energy needs creates dependency.
“Does it bother me to be participating in the global economy that might lead to stability? I think stable energy prices lead to regional stability. If we provide stable energy prices to these countries that builds a lot of stabilities,” he said. “That’s one of the things that the U.S. has also recognized. if we can use energy trade as a geopolitical tool to have a relationship with a country that might not otherwise be all that friendly. That somewhat creates a dependency. The U.S. and Trump want to be energy dominant. … Flip this around. Rather than looking at this making things worse, it’s really bolstering the United States geopolitical position through the use of energy as a trade tool.”
“If we had more time I’d debate it more thoroughly.”