Last weekend I took a stroll through the seasonal merchandise section of my local arts and crafts store. The artificial Christmas trees and wreaths were made in China. So were the tree lights and ornaments. And the Christmas cards. I got to thinking, “Gee, the Chinese do so much for us at this time of year. But what are we doing for them? I mean, isn’t this the season for giving?”
Then the December 13 Washington Post set me straight on Washington’s gift-giving plans for the Middle Kingdom. Turns out that after fighting seven years to secure Iraq, we’re going to give China — which did nothing to help — most of the oil under the country. Dig down six inches in Iraq and you’ll probably find the blood of an American soldier who fell trying to bring democracy to the place. But dig 600 feet deeper, and you’ll find the world’s third largest proven reserves of oil.
Washington always said the war wasn’t about oil, and now we’re proving it. When the Iraqi government recently auctioned off contracts for exploiting new oilfields, U.S. energy companies barely showed up. China’s state-owned oil company, on the other hand, was the biggest bidder. As the Post reported, “In marked contrast to the Americans, Chinese diplomats in Baghdad have kept a low profile in recent years, working out of a hotel and drawing little public attention. But Iraqi officials say they have been struck by the caliber of Chinese diplomats, many of whom speak flawless Arabic and have developed a nuanced understanding of Iraqi politics.”
Now the Chinese are leveraging those skills to get the only thing in Iraq that’s really worth having — the oil. Did I mention that ExxonMobil has just opened a $4.5 billion refining complex in China’s Fujian province? It’ll be the biggest refinery in the world — a title that used to be held by Exxon’s operation in Baytown, Texas. So that’s America’s plan for Christmas this year — we’re giving China the energy it needs to become the world’s workshop (they’ll pass us in manufacturing output around 2014).
And by the way, we aren’t just giving them black gold for the holidays. American tech company Applied Materials has opened its biggest solar-panel factory in China, which is one reason why China is a world leader in clean-energy technologies. As an American engineer at the plant observed on National Public Radio yesterday, “We don’t have anything like this in America.” So you don’t need to feel bad about always taking, taking, taking from China — we’ve found some gifts for the holidays that they’ll really like.
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