To add to the challenges Beijing faces, these sea routes are sensitive to several major threats.
Cleary this oil has to come from somewhere. Thus, since 1993 China has been pursuing a “go out” strategy, seeking to acquire energy assets abroad, primarily in Africa and the Middle East. Key suppliers of oil equivalents are now to be found in Angola, Saudi Arabia, and Iran whereas China gets much of its natural gas from Central Asia/the Caspian Basin pipelines and LNG shipments from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar.
Concerned by fears that economic growth might lose momentum, Beijing, as represented by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), has increasingly sought energy suppliers and energy allies around the world. The Chinese government has been building a modern a grid of pipelines, roads, and railways for its energy supplies reviving routes that for centuries were reserved for silk. Furthermore, the Chinese government has increased usage of vital shipping routes to import oil.
China is at pains not to antagonize the U.S. government by seeming to interfere with the large U.S. naval presence along these routes or by forcing the issue of Taiwan. The consequence of any clashes that might occur between U.S. American patrols and Chinese shipping could be either a naval embargo on Chinese oil supplies or worse a U.S. navy blockade of the Strait of Malacca, through which 80 percent of China’s oil imports pass. Moreover, the Strait is vulnerable to piracy.
As a result, the Chinese regime is following a two-pronged policy. On the one hand, it has been militarizing its energy policies by building up its naval capabilities and spreading its naval presence across the Gulf of Aden and Southeast Asia. These efforts have been counterbalanced by the extension of overland pipelines to the Middle East.
At the heart of the Chinese government’s efforts has been the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It has pursued President Hu Jintao’s determination to transform the former Silk Road into an Energy Road. The president has made securing oil a core element not only of economic welfare but also of national security, since scarcity of resources is perceived as being a major threat to both.
To achieve this, the SCO has been cultivating closer relations across Central Asia and the Caspian region and even with Russia.
Chinese has focused on three main goals in this policy of integration and cooperation: firstly, to quell unrest in the Xingjiang province, home to Muslim-Uyghur separatist forces; secondly, to outflank any maritime embargoes by diversifying energy resources from the Persian Gulf; and lastly to protect Chinese hegemony across Eurasia.
Via cooperation with Russia on integrating Afghanistan and Turkmenistan into SCO, China is seeking to strengthen economic integration, cooperation on energy, military, and security while ensuring stability against extremism, terrorism and separatism. SCO is also coordinating efforts to build an oil pipeline from Kazakhstan to Iran via Turkmenistan.
China’s Strategy toward Cental Asia has become increasingly inclusive and expansive. Financial investment has been employed to create dependency and intensify cooperation in oil/gas production and supply and military affairs. Both China and Russia would like to see U.S. troops out of Central Asia and a vastly reduced American influence there. To this end China has signed several military agreements with Central Asian states and in doing so moved into Russia’s sphere of influence.
Without a doubt Bejing will continue to pursue and expand these activities ensuring that it can secure its energy interests for the foreseeable future while cementing its political, commercial, and military influence.
Dr. Fariborz Saremi is a commentator on TV and radio (German ARD/NDR TV,SAT 1,N24, Voice of America and Radio Israel) on Middle East issues and a contributer to FreePressers.com, WorldTribune.com and Defense&Foreign Affairs.