“China Finds Resistance to Oil Deals in Africa” by Adam Nossiter is in today’s New York Times. The article says that governments in Chad, Niger, and Gabon have all either shut down, taken back, or imposed major penalties against Chinese oil projects, and that this seems to represent a turn towards greater assertiveness in Chinese-African investment relations. This in itself is not particularly surprising and indeed fits with what some Chinese politicians and commentators have been saying, namely that African governments should take greater responsibility for regulating investments in ways that benefit their countries. It also makes sense that with some investments already in place and incomes (including those of oil ministers) growing, they would begin fighting for better deals.
What caught my attentions are two claims: First, that Chad expelled the GM of an (unspecified) Chinese oil company’s local operations in response to environmental violations — this seems a highly unusual and very face-damaging step for China. Second, that one of the points of contention in Niger is that a refinery built by CNPC and jointly owned with Niger has been overcharging the Niger side, particularly for a bloated and “benefits-freighted” payroll of Chinese employees. Now this is interesting because one would usually think that the relatively low salaries and modest living conditions of Chinese expats distinguish them favourably from Westerners, at least from the perspective of locals.
On the face of it, it may simply be that Chinese big oil is becoming (or has always been) much the same as any other big oil, but I am curious about the inside story in these two cases. Can there be a connection to the arrest of several CNPC executives in the current anti-graft crackdown in China?