China's Gentle North American Resource Grab

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From Peruvian copper to Sudanese oil to Congolese cobalt, China's global resource deals have made a lot of headlines over the past few years, and they're often not without controversy. That's just as true in the developed world as in the poorest and most politically fragile nations. CNOOC (NYSE: CEO  ) tried to buy Unocal a few years back, and there was a big flap that resulted in a white-knight takeover by Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) . Price was not the deciding factor.

In recent years, China has modified its approach in North American resource deals. Rather than swallow companies whole, the country -- through sovereign wealth funds and state-owned enterprises -- has ponied up for partial ownership interests. This seems a lot more palatable to the U.S. and Canadian powers that be.

China Investment Corp. came to Teck Resources' (NYSE: TCK  ) rescue earlier this year with a $1.5 billion investment that gave the fund a 17% stake in the base-metal miner. It appears the deal was not even reviewed by the Investment Canada Act. Contrast this, the largest ever investment by a Chinese entity in a Canadian company, with China Minmetals' failed attempt a few years ago to take over mining giant Noranda (which soon merged with Falconbridge, and subsequently Xstrata).

While its big Unocal bid failed, CNOOC is now drilling at our door, thanks to an agreement with Statoil (NYSE: STO  ) to take a small minority interest in some Gulf of Mexico leases. The pair recently spud the Krakatoa prospect with the help of a shiny new Transocean (NYSE: RIG  ) drillship that's contracted for the next four years.

Another North American oil move that's gotten regulatory approval in recent days is PetroChina's (NYSE: PTR  ) $1.8 billion investment in Canadian oil sands. The deal is structured as a joint venture, in which PetroChina gets a 60% interest in two projects owned by Athabasca Oil Sands. The deal didn't exactly sail on through, as it was supposed to close on Oct. 31, but no threat to Canadian national security was identified.

Of course, China can only push these strategic investments so far before finding itself once more in sensitive territory. Just ask Aluminum Corp. of China (NYSE: ACH  ) about how it got spurned. Overall, though, China's new, gentler approach to North American resource acquisitions does appear to be paying dividends.

CNOOC is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick and Statoil is an Income Investor recommendation. Grab hold of our premium newsletter content free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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