Uncharted Waters

Members of the board of directors of China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) had an inkling that something was up the day they gathered in Hong Kong this spring for a regularly scheduled meeting with the firm's top management. Rumors that CNOOC, the third largest oil company in China, might make an audacious bid to buy Unocal, the ninth largest oil company in the U.S., had appeared in the financial press as early as January, although CNOOC never confirmed the stories. Board members also knew that CNOOC, in an effort to boost its ability to fuel China's booming economy, had been...

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