Curbing China's Designs on Oil

Make no mistake about it – the hell about to be unleashed in the Middle East has far less to do with transatlantic designs to curb Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction and everything to do with US control of the region’s oil supplies.

The US has long been aware that its own oil supplies were not going to last forever. Indeed, it is now estimated that existing US oil deposits will be exhausted within 25-30 years, which is about the time that China will have the same oil demands as the US. With this realisation the US is now securing its future control of the world’s oil supplies – hence its operation since 9/11 to surround Asian oil supplies with US military bases, a move that also puts US bases within striking distance of China.

Having already installed its military throughout Central Asia, the US is now in the process of doing the same in Western Asia. As China endeavours to arrange its future supplies of oil and gas, it finds itself everywhere blocked by the US. This much was hinted at in the recent US National Security Strategy with Bush announcing America’s right of defence (with military action) to any threats to its interests.

How does China enter the equation you may ask? Aside from the fact that China will become a leading oil importer within the next decade, the US has long since recognised China as a likely threat to its plan to dominate the markets of East and South-East Asia. But for the moment, curbing China’s designs on oil is a chief concern of the US. It can sort out the problem of China as a commercial rival in time.

China has been yearning for a gas pipeline from the Caspian region to China since around 1995. Intent on creating a security-cum-economic organisation for the planned pipeline, China took steps to initiate a group called the “Shanghai Five” (later six) consisting of China, Russia, and the significant Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and later Uzbekistan). Ostensibly, the idea for the group was to control fundamentalism and terrorism in the region (stretching to China’s westernmost Xinjiang province). Conversely, with the US’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the setting up of its military bases in the very countries who were to be in the Shanghai grouping, China’s plan was sabotaged. Later, during a trip to Iran, Chinese president Jiang Zemin stated that “‘Beijing’s policy is against strategies of force and the U.S. military presence in Central Asia and the Middle East region’.... Beijing would work together with developing nations to counter American ‘hegemonism.’”

Last year, Chinese firms purchased two Indonesian fields for $585 million and $262 million, respectively. Moreover, Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri has visited China twice since 2001, hoping to bag a $9 billion contract to supply liquid natural gas to power industries in southern China. In time with this the US increased its activities in the Indonesian neighbourhood, coercing the Philippines into accepting US “help” in rooting out fundamentalists, patrolling the Malacca straits with the Indian navy, and forcing Indonesia to accept US ‘cooperation’ in containing Al Qaeda elements in Indonesia itself. Back in December of 2001, a RAND Corporation presentation to a US Congress committee on “threats to the security and stability of Southeast Asia and to US security interests in the region,” outlined a chief area of concern as being “China’s emergence as a major regional power.” It argued that “China’s assertiveness will increase as its power grows.” It conjectured that “conflict could be triggered by energy exploration or exploitation activities”, and suggested the formation of a “comprehensive security network in the Asia-Pacific region.” Departing from the line that it was hunting for a handful of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in the Philippines, the RAND Corporation says that “the US should provide urgently needed air defence and naval patrol assets to the Philippines to help Manila re-establish deterrence vis-a-vis China and give a further impetus to the revitalization of the United States-Philippine defence relationship.... the US should expand and diversify its access and support arrangements in Southeast Asia to be able to effectively respond in a timely way to unexpected contingencies. After all, six months ago, who would have thought that US armed forces would be confronted with the need to plan and execute a military campaign in Afghanistan?” Like the US, China simply cannot ignore its reliance on west Asian oil. China has oil field development contracts with those very countries in west Asia targeted by US sanctions—Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan. With this entire region now to be besieged with the invasion of Iraq, China’s deals are destined to be dealt the same severe blow as its plan for a central Asian pipeline. Scarcely startling, then, that “Chinese leaders believe that the US seeks to contain China and [the US] is therefore a major threat to its [China’s] energy security”, as the US-China Security Review Commission’s report points out. (“China digs for Middle East oil, US gets fired up”, Reuters, 24/9/02).

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