The Hongcouver

‘Stand Up To China’ campaign pits Vancouver activism against Beijing’s oil ambitions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 February, 2016, 6:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:49am

Environmental activists in Vancouver are urging supporters to “Stand Up To China”, in a campaign that pits Beijing’s global energy ambitions against grassroots campaigners armed with a petition and an online video.

The Dogwood Initiative says in its campaign that Beijing “is demanding a pipeline and oil tanker port on the BC coast. It’s part of Beijing’s plan to buy Canadian oil companies, locking in access to the oil sands for decades. These are the conditions China has attached to a new free trade deal with Canada.”

Support for the “Stand Up To China” campaign has gone viral, with its petition urging new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject China’s supposed demand for a pipeline garnering more than 22,000 signatures since it was launched last Thursday. An accompanying video on Facebook and YouTube has been viewed more than 100,000 times.

WATCH: The Dogwood Initiative’s ‘Stand Up To China’ campaign video

The campaign comes ahead of Trudeau’s visit to China next month, which is expected to focus on forging a landmark free-trade pact.

China’s Vice Minister for Financial and Economic Affairs, Han Jun, visited Ottawa last month to lay groundwork for the trade talks. He reportedly told The Globe and Mail newspaper that a maritime energy corridor from Canada to China was a priority for Beijing.

Chinese firms with state-owned parent companies have made no secret of their decade-long desire for a pipeline to carry tar-sands crude from Alberta to the BC coast, from where tankers could ship the oil to China. But green groups including Dogwood are vehemently opposed to increasing oil tanker traffic, seeing a threat to BC’s pristine coastline.

In 2005, China’s biggest oil producer, PetroChina, signed on as a partner in Enbridge’s proposed Alberta-BC Northern Gateway pipeline. Six years later, Sinopec joined a consortium to fund about C$100 million (HK$569 million) in regulatory and development costs for the pipeline, which by then was facing fierce criticism from aboriginal and green groups.

We know what it’s like to be involved in a David-and-Goliath struggle
Kai Nagata, Dogwood Initiative

Then in 2012, oil-sands company Nexen signed up as a backer of the Northern Gateway project; less than a year later, Chinese state-owned CNOOC would complete a takeover of Nexen in a C$15.1 billion deal that triggered widespread concern about foreign ownership, and lead to restrictions on state-owned firms investing in Canadian oil and gas.

Dogwood’s communications director, Kai Nagata, said of the “Stand Up To China” campaign: “We know what it’s like to be involved in a David-and-Goliath struggle.

“The question is, who is going to be making decisions about our home, and things that will affect our lives for decades to come? We don’t feel that we can sit this one out.”

Nagata said there was “nothing particularly opaque” about China’s energy strategy regarding Canada, and its desire for a pipeline to BC. He said Han’s comments were “confirmation of a strategy that’s been in the works for at least 10 years”.

China’s consulate in Vancouver did not respond to requests for comment on the campaign, or the free-trade talks. But major hurdles exist for China if it insists upon a west coast pipeline.

Northern Gateway was backed by Canada’s former Conservative government of Stephen Harper, but was seen to have been scotched by the Liberal Party’s Trudeau in November when he banned tanker traffic in northern BC waters.

Meanwhile, a C$6.8 billion expansion of Kinder Morgan’s existing Trans Mountain pipeline has been placed on the back burner, after the provincial BC government said last month that the firm had failed to explain how it would cope with oil spills.

However, Dogwood fears the revival of these routes or a new pipeline scheme. Nagata said Dogwood was particularly concerned Trudeau would be influenced by longtime Liberal insiders who are also heavily involved in the pro-China-business lobby, via the Canada-China Business Council and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

“These guys have a couple of think-tanks that just happened to release a report last month touting all of the benefits of free trade with China…there are very powerful business interests within Canada that were the same folks lobbying in favour of FIPA [the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement between Canada and China, which came into effect in 2014].”

The CCBC/CCCE report estimates that a free-trade deal with China would generate C$7.8 billion in economic activity within 15 years, and create 25,000 new Canadian jobs.

Nagata said that under FIPA, foreign companies could now challenge Canadian court and legislative decisions in an international tribunal, mediated by “for-profit arbitrators supplied by law firms”. “Outrageous awards” had been made against sovereign nations by Canadian arbitrators under such investor-state treaties elsewhere, he added.

“There are definitely law firms in Canada that are very interested in expanding the investor-state arbitration industry.”

Nagata said the response to the “Stand Up To China” campaign had been surprisingly strong. “There’s been a honeymoon period since the Canadian election [in October]…but the fundamental relationship that powerful corporations have with Ottawa has not changed. The goals of international oil companies have not changed.”

Dogwood was aware of the potential for the “Stand Up To China” campaign to be perceived as racist in tone, Nagata said, and about five people had got in touch to express this concern.

“[But] what we are explicitly going after are some of the most powerful people in the world, namely these state-owned oil companies in China working in concert with the government there, and the ‘Bay Street’ lobbyists that are pushing these international investor treaties,” he said, using a colloquialism for Canada’s legal and banking sector.

“In 1941, if you’d asked me to sign up to a ‘Stand Up To Japan’ petition, the answer would be yes, absolutely,” said Nagata, who is of Japanese heritage. “There are times when the actions of another country’s government are absolutely in opposition to our own best interests here in Canada and on the West Coast.”

Nagata said that a supporter in China had told Dogwood that the “Stand Up To China” site had been blocked in the mainland last Friday. However, the SCMP was able to view the site in Beijing on three out of four occasions this week.

Pipeline politics are a burning issue in Canada

Oil pipeline politics are a hot issue in Canada, inspiring an active environmental advocacy movement that includes the Dogwood Initiative.

Four proposed pipelines have occupied attention in recent years: Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain, Energy East and the ill-fated Keystone XL. All have the goal of getting Alberta’s oil-sands crude to global markets, including China.

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline by Enbridge would run from Alberta to Kitimat on BC’s remote northern coast, from where it would be taken by tankers to cross-Pacific markets. But the scheme, long favoured by Chinese oil corporations, appears to have been killed off by new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; one of his first acts in November was to ban tanker traffic in environmentally sensitive northern BC waters.

Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline likewise faces a government roadblock. The project to increase the capacity of an existing line from Alberta to Burnaby, from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels, has been avidly opposed by local activists. The BC provincial government last month said it could not back the scheme, because the firm had failed to provide details of how it would cope with oil spills.

It was US President Barack Obama who famously rejected TransCanada’s Keystone XL line last November. The proposal had the support of both former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and Trudeau, and would have connected Albertan oil sands to the US Gulf Coast. TransCanada is fighting the US decision by suing the Obama administration under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

That leaves TransCanada’s Energy East proposal, from Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick. Trudeau has kept the C$15 billion project in the running without an explicit expression of support, but it is a distant prospect. Like Keystone XL, Energy East would route Canadian oil to China the long way around, via the Atlantic and Indian oceans and the South China Sea.


The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email [email protected] or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.