The federal government has approved a Chinese state-owned oil company to explore for oil off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Last week, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) received permission to explore for oil in the Flemish Pass Basin, an area of open ocean 400km east of Newfoundland.

“The decision was made following a thorough and science-based environmental assessment process concluding that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects when mitigation measures are taken into account,” the federal government said.

The government gave CNOOC 101 conditions they must follow throughout the project.

CNOOC is China’s largest offshore oil firm. Founded in 1982, the firm has been the subject of multiple controversies.

The firm has been accused of working with criminal groups in countries they operate in, and working with the Chinese Communist government to prosecute members of the religious minority Falun Gong within the company.

Approval for the project comes at a time when Canada and China are involved in a diplomatic dispute.

For over a year, two Canadians have been imprisoned in China, a move largely seen as retaliation for the arrest of Chinese businesswomen Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in late 2018.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been given limited access to the Canadian consulate over the past year, and Kovrig’s glasses were confiscated earlier this year without reason.

Recent studies show that many Canadians do not want closer economic ties with China. Further, Canadians do not want Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to gain access to Canada’s 5G cellular network.

Huawei, which is banned in multiple countries due to alleged ties to the Chinese government, is currently engaged in a “diplomatically forceful” lobbying campaign to convince the Trudeau government to approve them. Six cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, have been identified as lobby targets for Huawei.

In December, the House of Commons voted to create a committee to study Canada-China relations in-depth despite Liberal opposition.

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