China's man in Canada on charm offensive to polish image of Chinese investors

OTTAWA – China’s ambassador in Canada is on a charm offensive, appealing to the public to look favourably on Chinese investment in the oil patch.

Ambassador Zhang Junsai has given two recent media interviews coming just after Nexen shareholders overwhelmingly approved a generous takeover from Chinese state-owned CNOOC — a deal that still needs Ottawa’s blessing to go ahead.

In interviews with the Globe and Mail and CTV, Zhang said Chinese businesses are interested in Canada because the investment climate is stable and regulations are “mature.”

“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 told CTV’s Question Period in an interview aired Sunday.

“They feel that they can cooperate and learn (about) their counterpart very well. That’s why they come.”

He said Chinese state-owned companies make investment decisions based on profit and business potential, evaluating each company on a case-by-case basis.

He deflected questions about warnings from Canada’s spy agency that state-owned enterprises could be using their investment ties for intelligence purposes.

Last Thursday, in its latest annual report, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said the majority of foreign investment in Canada is carried out in an open and transparent manner.

However, certain state-owned enterprises and private firms “with close ties to their home governments have pursued opaque agendas or received clandestine intelligence support for their pursuits here.”

But Zhang warned Canadians not to jump to conclusions, and noted that the CSIS report did not name any specific countries.

The federal government is in the midst of considering whether to approve the takeover of Nexen Inc. by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company.

Harper and senior cabinet ministers have suggested they want to see “reciprocity” in how Canadian investments are handled in China.

But Zhang counters that since China has been receptive to investment from 12,000 Canadian business, especially financial institutions, Canada should also be open to Chinese money.

If Canadians want better market access and surefire rules to protect investments, Ottawa should move quickly to negotiate a wide-ranging trade and investment deal with China, he told the Globe and Mail.

“It’s high time to do the exploratory work on the possibility of a free-trade agreement,” he said. “Under a free-trade agreement there will be more and more trade and investment.”

The opposition NDP is urging the federal government to hold public reviews of the Nexen proposal and to be more explicit in what standards a foreign takeover must meet in order to be approved here.