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Source: www.asiaecon.org |

CHINA'S ENERGY SECURITY AND THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT


  Traditionally, Beijing considered the Middle East as too distant for significant investment and therefore limited its efforts when persuading Arab countries to expand their ties to Taiwan and establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic.


Traditionally, Beijing considered the Middle East as too distant for significant investment and therefore limited its efforts when persuading  Arab countries to expand their ties to Taiwan and establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic. The formal establishment of relations with Egypt in 1956 was Beijing’s first diplomatic success in the Arab world. China’s mission to establish full diplomatic relations with all Arab countries was accomplished in 1990 when Saudi Arabia and China finally exchanged ambassadors. With China’s rapid economic expansion and increasing demand for energy over the past few decades, the Middle East region acquired growing interest within Chinese foreign policy. When comparing China’s approach to Middle Eastern policy to that of the United States, the Chinese policy has been looked upon as much more restrained than its active counterpart. Thus, in an effort to secure its energy sources, China’s foreign policy towards the Middle East is diverting into a more active and lucrative path.

The Middle East, a turbulent region that does not score high on the agenda of Chinese foreign policy, has attracted China’s attention with the recent rising violence in Gaza. China’s pro-active stance in finding a settlement to this latest crisis, highlights its growing concern with energy security, needed to satisfy the country’s power-hungry economy.

“China is an emerging economic power and has to push for increasing its influence in the Middle East,” said an independent energy analyst Liu Tao. “Participating along with other world powers in the resolution of the current conflict in the region can help China better ensure its energy security.”
 
Since the latest round of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict broke out on Dec. 27, 2008, China has been supporting the United Nation’s Security Council in its early adoption of a resolution calling for an immediate truce in Gaza, the withdrawal of forces from the region, the opening of crossing points into Gaza, and easing of the humanitarian situation in Gaza,  Zhang Yesui, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, stated. The Security Council adopted the new resolution, drafted by Britain, with 14 voting in favor and with the abstinence of the United States after a compromise was reached between Arab foreign ministers and their Western counterparts.

China announced it will be sending its Middle East special envoy to Egypt, Israel, and Palestine to promote conflict resolution and support the calls for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore,  Beijing has also pledged $1 million of emergency humanitarian aid to the Palestinian National Authority and promised further aid in the future.

Considerably a new player in the region and in efforts to promote growing relations in recent years, Beijing has concentrated on upgrading economic ties with Arab countries to carve out a space for itself in this US and British influence.

The Middle East currently provides over 45 % of China’s total oil imports. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2015 Chinese oil imports from the Middle East will rise to at least 70%,  making China’s oil imports heavily dependent on the Middle East, which holds two-thirds of the world’s recognized oil reserves. Thus, prospects of maintaining high growth for the Chinese economy are inevitably tied to the fortunes of the Middle East.

While the current crisis does not involve major oil-producing countries in the region, Chinese energy analysts have pointed at its impact on oil prices. Worries that the armed conflict could engulf the oil-rich Middle East, has helped push oil prices to $48 per barrel last week.

For China, however, the conflict may bring disruption to recently announced plans to stockpile oil. Amid low international oil prices, Beijing has been seeking to fill up its strategic oil reserves, quickening the pace of its imports.

The country’s plans to create strategic oil reserves came to a halt after oil prices hit $70 a barrel in August 2007. Analysts believe Beijing resumed filling up the reserves in the last few months, taking advantage of falling global demand for energy.

The age of Chinese passivity in the Middle East is over. Beijing will play an increasingly active role in the region with the goal of ensuring its own energy security. This does not mean that Chinese and American policies will necessarily be at odds. Beijing understands and, indeed, shares U.S. concerns regarding proliferation and terrorism. Just as Washington seeks to maintain good relations with both the Arab world and Israel, so too will Beijing.

 

Source: www.AsiaEcon.org

 

Source: www.asiaecon.org |


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