With revolutionary shale gas and shale oil technologies, the US is, as President Obama said in his State of the Union address in January 2014, closer to energy independence than ever. How such independence affects China has been a popular issue for studies in China in recent years. The assessment of the impact of the US energy independence on China is characterized with a strong sense of uncertainty, vulnerability and insecurity.
China states three main goals in its energy policy: security, efficiency, and environmental protection, with energy security being the top priority. In the Chinese lexicon, energy security first and most importantly means the secure and uninterrupted supply and transportation of foreign energy resources back to China. According to recent studies by the State Council, by 2030, China will import about 75 percent of the 800 million tons of its annual domestic oil consumption. How to secure the stable and constant supplies of such a large volume, diversify the sources to mitigate vulnerability, and ensure their safe transportation back home has become a serious challenge for China. China’s insatiable need for energy security is the primary motivation for its fervent global acquisitions of energy assets and development of pipelines with Russia, Central Asia, and Myanmar in recent years. Since 2009, Chinese oil companies have spent more than $100 billion on oil and gas assets to boost imports.
From the pure perspective of energy security, the Chinese perception of US energy independence is largely negative: an energy-secure United States, in the view of many Chinese, will damage China’s energy security through either actively manipulating or passively fostering the instability of oil-producing regions/countries. Many Chinese analysts believe that from a geopolitical point of view, the independence of the United States from Middle Eastern oil will translate into reduced interests and deployment in the area, leading to regional chaos that will significantly damage China’s energy supply and shipment. China relies on the Middle East and Africa for the largest share of its crude oil supplies, freeriding with the security and stability Washington currently provides. However, if the United States is to reduce its role in the region, it would expose China to tremendous geopolitical and security risks.
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This op-ed appeared in The Hill on March 20, 2014.
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