It’s official, the takeover of Canada’s Nexen by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) is being allowed to proceed, as well as a purchase of Progress Energy by Malasian the state oil firm, Petronas. The Nexen deal has been incredibly controversial, across the political spectrum, with many very apprehensive about allowing an arm of the the Chinese government a foothold in Alberta’s Tar Sands, now our country’s largest export industry. In response to criticisms, Harper has set new rules about foreign buyouts, giving dollar thresholds above which they’d be “reviewed”, but as critics have already pointed out, these takeovers were already well above the limits he set.

This comes on the heels of Harper’s pending trade deal with China, the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, or FIPA (full text pdf), extending “investor rights” to Chinese firms much like those seen under NAFTA. These rules already allow American corporations to sue our government if laws and regulations prevent them from profiting, like the current challenge from Lone Pine Resources against Quebec’s ban on fracking in the St. Lawrence Valley, demanding $250 million in compensation. This agreement, negotiated (as usual) behind closed doors and facing massive opposition, could be ratified any time now.

For what it’s worth, the concerns are well justified. Whatever you think of Chairman Mao, today’s China has become one of the world’s most frightening totalitarian states, melding capitalism and communism into a monstrous hybrid which is quickly becoming one of the planet’s most powerful economies. Their record for human rights, at home and abroad, is abysmal, and their regard for workers and the environment equally dismal. As for the fate of countries which come to depend on single, relatively raw exports which become dominated by foreign corporations – they’re often even worse. Selling ownership of Alberta’s Tar Sands puts them that much further from public control, and will only decrease our voice in these crucial matters.

What bothers me so much about the whole discussion, though, is what isn’t being said. Corporate neo-colonialism is real, it’s serious, and it’s been happening every single day since the old empires fell. Canadians are no stranger to this, we do it all the time. Our mining industry is unparalleled, as is our growing reputation for crimes in countries where it operates. Our country was the world’s largest colony, and we still struggle today with conflicts between our indigenous population and resource development aspirations. China, on the other hand, has suffered immeasurably at the hands of foreign corporations since the days of the Opium Wars.

To put it bluntly, the chickens are home, and they’re looking to roost.

Complaining about “foreign takeovers” while we refuse to take action against companies headquartered here for doing the same elsewhere is beyond hypocritical. If we really see such injustice in this kind of behaviour, a good first step would be to ‘put our own house in order’.

All of this, of course, gets left out of mainstream discussions, no matter how “critical”. Few even dare to mention the massive American involvement, already so entrenched that they consider Canadian oil among their “domestic supply”. Need I mention what they do to the states they rely on to quench their insatiable thirst for petrochemicals? Or the terms of agreements we’ve already signed, guaranteeing them access to our oil and allowing their troops access to our territories?

What makes Asian takeovers so much more terrifying? They’re not white.

One way or the other, there’s a growing awareness in the Canadian establishment that it lacks the capital needed to continue expansion for much longer. If we’re to triple production by the 2030s, as they intend and the IEA is now demanding, we’re going to need many more billions. With American finance increasingly tied up in its own unconventional oil/gas boom and Britian (BP) and the Netherlands (Shell) already extended around the globe, we’re left with India and China, quickly developing and looking to expand their own global economic reach. Whether that happens or not depends more on the Chinese economy than any other factor. They’ve been witnessing a “slowdown” in recent months, prompting many to fear that it’s on the verge of implosion. That’s another point which has so far been left out of these discussions…

Should we resist Tar Sands expansion backed by China? That goes without saying. We should resist all hair-brained industrial giga-schemes of the sort, whether those behind it are American, British, Dutch, Chinese or even, (*gasp*) Canadian. We have to be careful, though, not to fall into convenient nationalistic oversimplifications for the purpose of “selling” our message. I’m no big fan of the “People’s Republic”, but some of the rhetoric being thrown around has a a tone which sounds uncomfortably xenophobic. Some distinctions need to be made between the state and the people of China. No argument or “cause” is worth what we give up when we pander to racists. Arguments based in evidence speak much louder (and more clearly) than those rooted in fear and insinuation.

Petrochemical development is a very dangerous game. Oil doesn’t just provide mechanical power, it also grants political power. Around the globe, oil-rich nations before us have experienced the “resource curse” this entails. Canada’s aspirations to become a world leader in oil production come with an international spotlight in times of dwindling conventional reserves – they make us not only an important trade partner, but also a crucial “strategic asset”. As a nation, we may finally be waking up to the realisation that others have ambitions too, and we won’t necessarily be the ones in charge.

Funny how different power looks from the other side, isn’t it?

Advertisements