Chinese ambassador to Canada: 'We're open for all businesses'
With Chinese companies snapping up large parts of the Alberta oilpatch and the bid for Nexen Inc. now facing regulatory approval, the Chinese ambassador told CTV’s Question Period that Ottawa should reciprocate the welcome the Asian economic powerhouse has extended to nearly 12,000 Canadian businesses operating there.
His comments come as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government is working to build stronger economic ties with China, weighs approval of a multi-billion dollar bid by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to take over Canadian oil and gas company Nexen.
In an interview with CTV Question Period host Kevin Newman, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Junsai said nearly 12,000 Canadian businesses have long been present in many sectors of the Chinese economy, including “strategic industries” subject to foreign ownership restrictions.
“Your financial institutions went to China 20 years ago. And some of the financial institutions have their branches in 50 cities in China. They’re doing very well,” he said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
“This year we counted almost every day there’s one Canadian company invested in China. So we’re open. We’re open for all businesses. You have many, you have Manulife, you have Bombardier, you have SunLife, you have lots of companies who are doing very well in China and employ lot of Chinese companies,” he added.
In an attempt to quell fears that the bid for Nexen is a first step toward acquiring a larger stake in the Canadian energy industry, Zhang stressed that it is not unlike other large deals that are brokered by the many Canadian firms in China.
“Some companies come here to take about 10 per cent, five per cent and some a little bit more,” said Zhang. “Some take over all kinds of forms, just like Canadian companies investing overseas because these companies are doing (acting) according to the international practice.”
Nexen’s shareholders approved CNOOC’s bid last Friday, but under foreign investment rules the final decision lies with the federal government.
The ambassador also said the Chinese government is pleased to see the increasing development of trade relations between the two countries, and Chinese investors ultimately see Canada as an ideal place to do business.
The end result, he argues, is a win-win situation for both countries’ economies.
“I think that the Chinese investments come because they feel this country’s environment is good, politically stable and there are very mature regulations and rules,” he said. “They feel that they can cooperate and learn you know their counterpart very well. That’s why they come.
“If you look at our bilateral relations especially in the economic and trade relations, last couple of years trade relations, trade volumes each year grow by 30 per cent against this gloomy world economic situation.”
Zhang dismissed the fears of some opponents that state-owned enterprises serve the interests of the ruling Communist party, saying that at the end of the day CNOOC and other large corporations must satisfy the interests of investors.
“Because they are listed in the New York stock market, they are listed in Hong Kong stock market, they are responsible for the shareholders for their business,” said Zhang.
In a separate interview, federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the desires of shareholders should not be a factor in the decision making process.
“If my only interest were that as a shareholder of Nexen, I’d be ecstatic about the deal as well because they stand to make a pile of money. But that shouldn’t be our only concern,” Mulcair told CTV’s Question Period.
The ambassador said Beijing expects foreign companies operating in their country to abide by Chinese laws, and the same applies to Chinese firms operating in Canada.
This should address the concerns some Canadians have regarding transparency over how much money is going into CNOOC, he said.
When asked to comment on a report released by Canada’s security agency warning that foreign takeovers of certain industries could pose national security risks, Zhang said he would not because it “does not name any countries.”
According to the CSIS report released Friday, when companies close to foreign intelligence agencies or hostile governments attempt to acquire control over strategic sectors of the economy, it can represent a threat to security interests. The report did not name specific countries or companies.
“This kind of thing, I think that if you have real evidence, you know,” he said. “But if you don’t have real evidence you have to say, you have to be very careful.”
In his remarks, Mulcair suggested his party is “very concerned” about the Nexen deal because it is not so much an attempt to buy a Canadian asset or company, but is rather “a question of buying the actual, physical natural resources of Canada,” he said.
“Where do you draw the line?” Mulcair asked. “Is it going to be the case that another country with lots of money is going to start buying our agricultural land?”
The Opposition leader said there needs to be a national, open discussion of the Nexen deal. He also said the legislation on foreign ownership should be revisited.