‘Energy security with Chinese characteristics’

[This post was originally posted in The Dragon and The Eagle on 18 December 2006]

“China is willing to cooperate with other countries in developing and exploiting energy resources, especially in energy conservation, improvement of energy efficiency, development of alternative energy resources and environmental protection concerning energy utilization, and contribute to maintaining the stability and security of international energy supply.” (People’s Daily Online, 16 December 2006)

The above sentence was a remark made by Premier Wen Jiabao in five countries meeting in Beijing last weekend. Along with India, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., China had used this meeting to boost further “energy efficiency … (as) a strategic issue in China’s economic development.” The meeting concluded with, among others, a shared interest of taking “effective measures to improve energy efficiency to address the energy security issue.” For China alone, this meeting was quite important as many predict it will be the number one oil importer by the first half of the century.

It is easy to understand that the massive measure of Chinese economic development has been demanding a huge amount of energy, notably oil, available. Even though domestic energy supplies still contribute a significant part of Chinese energy demand, but external energy supplies has been on the rise for the last five years or so. This has led many countries, among them is the U.S of course, worry that Beijing’s huge demand of energy could be a threat of world energy security. China quickly responds to this development by saying that ‘the allegation’ would have no reason. According to the Chinese government, “energy imports only constitute a minor part of China’s energy mix which depends mainly on the domestic resources.” As China’s import of oil is still far behind those of the U.S. and Japan at the moment, “it was unfair to say China’s remarkable increase in oil demand would be responsible for the world’s upsurging oil price.” (quotes taken from People’s Daily Online).

However, things could be change so rapidly these days. With economic development progress, China understands that it needs more energy supply, and this may come from outside resources. While stands as the world’s number one coal producer, Chinese dependence on coal burning for energy may have not lasted forever. Just remember that coal burning is regarded as the top cause of environmental degradation in today’s China. We are now familiar with phrases like ‘China’s quest for energy security‘,‘China’s global hunt for energy’, or ‘China’s oil diplomacy’, which see China pays more unprecedented attention to Africa and Latin America. We may see that China will play more important roles in global energy security as we prepare for the upcoming of what I call “The century of the new dragon”. Washington and Tokyo may not happy to see this development, but it seems to me no one but the Chinese themselves can prevent it from happening.

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