Everything's bigger in Alaska, but in China the superlatives are unrivaled.
Touting a population of about 1.2 billion and an economy that has doubled its gross domestic product in a decade, China is experiencing intense growing pains as it opens to trade with world markets. But with increased manufacturing and job opportunities come many of the same challenges faced by Alaska: energy consumption, pollution, housing, conservation, education and health care.
These and other topics were explored last month by Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, and 11 other state lawmakers from Hawaii, Washington, Georgia, Montana, North Dakota, Massachusetts and New York.
The group traveled to the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Xiamen and Guangzhou, under a program by the Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Policy Alternatives, a nonpartisan progressive policy organization that serves state legislators.
Each year, the Eleanor Roosevelt Global Leadership Institute, a program created by the CPA, sends 12 state lawmakers to advanced developing countries to learn how they deal with issues linked to globalization.
Carolina Zumaran-Jones, director of the Institute, said Shanghai, Xiamen and Guangzhou constitute some of the largest manufacturing centers in the world.
"We wanted to see how they are dealing with economic growth, the environment and human development, particularly in these cities that really are the center of attraction to the impoverished," Zumaran-Jones said.
She said 150 million migrants in the country travel to the manufacturing centers in search of jobs.
"It's in the urban areas where we found greater parallels and more platforms to discuss," Zumaran-Jones said.
Kerttula said the group visited two rivers in Shanghai polluted with factory toxins and raw sewage. Residents of new ultra-modern high-rise apartments next to one of the rivers prompted the government to clean it with a floating waste-treatment facility, she said.
"When they say sewage, they mean sewage like you wouldn't believe," Kerttula said.
The treatment cleaned only two miles of the river, but chipping away at pollution with small projects is sometimes the only way to tackle bigger problems, she said.
Similarly, on the island of Xiamen, near Taiwan, the city is trying to clean up polluted water to expand tourism in the area. She said fish farms have been removed and that local officials are looking closely at reducing cruise ship pollution.
Kerttula said she hopes to return to China soon to help promote trade with Alaska.
She noted that meetings between Gov. Frank Murkowski and businessmen and government officials from Taiwan earlier this month were a step in developing more trade in Asia.
"Those are the kinds of things we ought to be doing," she said. "(China) is a huge market. They can take all our fish and keep going."
Murkowski met with Taiwan business leaders and Republic of China President Chen Shui-bian earlier this month, noting that several tentative business deals were reached during their 24-hour stay in Alaska.
Kake Foods, Tlingit-Haida Central Council and Raven's Table, a Yakutat smokery, also have teamed up in search of state grants to market smoked salmon in China. Tlingit-Haida said a Chinese seafood company has expressed interest in importing smoked salmon.