On Feb. 19, MarketWatch.com, the Dow Jones subsidiary that provides stock market quotes and business and financial news, reported that executives of China’s Cnooc Ltd. asked to delay the signing of an estimated $850 million oil deal until after the Chinese New Year, which fell on Feb. 3. They got their delay. “This had something to do with the Year of the Rabbit; it’s not a joke,” MarketWatch quoted “a person close to the matter” as saying.
It seemed a blithe dismissal of centuries-old Chinese beliefs, the kind of dismissal that stems from notions of cultural superiority. Adherents to such notions, we snuggle in a delusional cocoon — surprised, perplexed and even dismayed by occurrences in the other-world cultures of places like China, Africa and the Middle East, high-tech intelligence gathering notwithstanding. Our delusions would be risible were it not for the sometimes tragic outcomes of our cocoon-inspired responses to those occurrences.
The deal in question involved the purchase by Argentina’s Pan American Energy of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Esso Petrolera Argentina S.r.L. unit, the country’s third-biggest fuels retailer with a network of some 500 service stations and an 85,000-barrel-a-day oil refinery, and another 220 service stations in Uruguay and Paraguay. Acquiring the unit would turn Pan American Energy into a fully integrated oil and gas producer and enable it to better compete with YPF S.A., Argentina’s largest integrated oil company, analysts said. The Cnooc executives got the delay because Pan American Energy is a unit of Bridas Corp., which is jointly owned by Argentina’s Bulgheroni family through Bridas Energy Holdings and Cnooc.
The delay request was no frivolous matter, an old friend of mine — a Filipina of Chinese origin — explained. “Although China turned communist and the regime is supposed to have disavowed traditional Chinese beliefs, it looks like not all is forgotten,” she said. “This multibillion-dollar oil deal is being put off for a month because the Chinese buyers believe that the Year of the Tiger, while officially over, still casts a shadow for about a month into the Year of the Rabbit. The Year of the Rabbit is not fully integrated into the New Year until about a month after Chinese New Year day.
“So, with February being a ‘trailing’ part of the Year of the Tiger (which brings lots of uncertainties and upheavals to many, except for Year of the Horse folks), the Chinese government wants to put off signing this deal until the Year of the Rabbit fully comes out on its own into the New Year, around early March. This is what the Chinese refer to as the period where the animal symbol takes on the head of the rabbit (sign of the New Year) and the tail of a tiger (sign of the year just passed, but not completely gone). And during this period of transition,” she continued, “the uncertainties and upheavals brought in by the Tiger year are not completely gone, although they’re weakening, while the period of recovery and peace brought on by the Year of the Rabbit gains strength and slowly overpowers the uncertainties and upheavals of the Tiger year.
“Not many folks are acquainted with this part of Chinese New Year tradition. Now you are. So expect the fire raging through North Africa and the Middle East to continue, but it will eventually begin to dissipate as the Year of the Rabbit gains strength.”
Great! But what will the ashes look like?