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China's CNOOC Withdraws Bid for Unocal


The Chinese government-controlled company, CNOOC, has withdrawn its bid for U.S. energy company Unocal. The move puts an end to what had become a hotly debated subject in the United States among politicians and ordinary Americans.

Two companies, CNOOC and Chevron, had been engaged in a highly publicized bidding war over Unocal. The competing offers involved billions of dollars and, in the CNOOC case, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, which would have spent several months reviewing any CNOOC-Unocal deal.

At the same time, critics in the U.S. Congress called for a congressional review of any possible Unocal merger with the Chinese company, which also would have taken several months.

A Wall Street Journal poll found that nearly three-quarters of more than one thousand people surveyed opposed the CNOOC deal.

Elizabeth Economy, the director of Asian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says she thinks the political heat was a major factor in CNOOC's decision to withdraw its bid.

"This was going to take three-quarters of the year, probably, to wend its way through the whole political process, and there's no guarantee of a positive outcome at the end. And it was causing more of a political brouhaha than in the end, probably, CNOOC was willing to bear. So, I think it had everything to do with politics, and I think probably, even if it were to raise its bid, it wouldn't get the desired outcome. This clearly was not a market-based transaction, it was not going to be a market-based transaction. So, I think they punted."

CNOOC's 18-and-a-half billion dollar bid for Unocal was $700 million higher than Chevron's offer, which the U.S. company raised a few weeks ago to keep its bid competitive. University of Michigan Professor Kenneth Lieberthal says the issue may have been resolved in concrete terms, but will still affect the overall U.S.-China relationship.

"Are we inevitably going to be enemies or are we potentially going to be basically constructive partners, albeit with differences? And each side is always looking for indicators of what the real feelings, the underlying feelings of the other side are."

In this context, he says, the way the CNOOC bid played out in the United States could cast a shadow on long-term relations.

"The kind of reaction it sparked, inevitably played very much into the arguments of the hardliners in China, those who say that the U.S. inevitably sees China as a competitor, as an antagonist, and therefore will do what it can to weaken China, prevent it from growing as rapidly as it might otherwise grow, and prevent it from reaching a position where it can really be a serious competitor of the United States. I don't think it is in America's security interest to strengthen the hardliners in China."

One of the main issues, according to analysts, is whether or not fair and open rules for trade and investment exist in the United States. The Council on Foreign Relations' Elizabeth Economy says this topic should be near the top of the agenda when Chinese President Hu Jintao comes to Washington in September.

"I think it's going to take a lot of strong statements by the leaders of both countries, saying this is a priority. We've agreed to these rules of the game and we want to make sure that we follow them."

Ms. Economy describes the failed CNOOC bid as a "disruption" to the overall U.S.-China relationship, which she compares to driving a car. Both President Bush and President Hu need to keep strong hands on the steering wheel, she adds, or else the car could go spinning out of control.

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