Touting the safety and natural bounty of Maine, Gov. Paul LePage is pushing for Chinese students and companies to come to the Pine Tree State.

Gov. Paul LePage

LePage told China Daily, an English language daily newspaper that is controlled by the central government, that attracting more Chinese students may be one solution to Maine’s aging population.

“If we can get young Chinese students to come to our high schools, then maybe we can convince them to stay here and go to our universities,” he said, including the University of Maine and “some very elite private colleges.”

“Frankly, Maine people are just like Japanese society; we are getting older, we want to attract young people to come and live in Maine,” the governor said. “So I think it’s really important that we develop a cultural exchange” that brings students to the state “to help us grow our population.”

He said the fact that Maine is one of the safest states in the country is an advantage.

LePage also expressed a desire to lure more Chinese investment in Maine and perhaps make one last trade mission to the economic powerhouse before leaving office. He visited China in 2012 and 2015 to seek more Chinese investment in Maine.

There has been talk of a trade mission to China in September, but it’s not clear if LePage is involved.

The governor, who steps down at year’s end, sees the efforts as successful.

“So many results have been achieved,” he told the paper, especially in securing greater access to the Chinese market for Maine lobsters.

LePage also pointed to a $120 million investment in St. Croix Tissue in Baileyville from International Grand Investment Corp., the U.S. arm of a Chinese firm. That led to more than 80 new jobs directly, he said, and many more indirectly.

The governor said Maine is talking now with a large Chinese company about coming to Maine in the forest products sector that he thinks “will happen in a few months.”

Maine sells more than $200 million worth of exports in China each year, but LePage seeks the potential to ship much more.

LePage said Maine’s agriculture market, from wild blueberries to maple syrup, could do well in China.

“We have so much in the food category. We would like to see more Chinese investment here so we can send them to China,” he said.

LePage talked to the paper about trade tensions between the U.S. and China, expressing hope they’ll be resolved.

“Good business people love tough negotiations,” the governor said.

“Preferably, I don’t like governments to get involved in trade,” LePage said. “If they are going to be, let’s make sure everybody gets an equal playing field. Chinese get a good deal, and the U.S. gets a good deal.”

LePage expressed a distaste for raising tariffs that would make Chinese products more costly for Americans and perhaps trigger retaliatory tariffs that might hurt American exports.

“I don’t believe tariffs work. I think tariffs work only when we fail to negotiate,” LePage said. “The whole country has a trade deficit with China since China is a pretty strong manufacturing country.”

“The Chinese people’s standard of living is going to grow, and the United States is going to taper off, so that we can find an equilibrium and we can trade equally on equal footing,” he said.

LePage said he’d like to go back to China before handing over the keys to the Blaine House to a successor.

“I really enjoyed my visits to China. I just like going to see it before I leave,” he said.

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