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Washington Quarterly: Managing China-U.S. Energy Competition in the Middle East

Authors: Flynt Leverett, and Jeffrey Bader
Winter 2005-06

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Chinese engagement in the Middle East has expanded economically, politically, and strategically over the last several years. Since the late 1990s, Beijing's policies toward the region have been closely linked to the objectives of the three major, state-owned Chinese energy companies -- the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the China National Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec), and CNOOC -- to seek access to Middle Eastern oil and gas, frequently on an exclusive basis. Since 2002, the Middle East has become the leading arena for Beijing's efforts to secure effective ownership of critical hydrocarbon resources, rather than relying solely on international markets to meet China's energy import needs. There is every reason to anticipate that China will continue and even intensify its emphasis on the Middle East as part of its energy security strategy. China will likely keep working to expand its ties to the region's energy exporters over the
next several years to ensure that it is not disadvantaged relative to other foreigncustomers and to maximize its access to hydrocarbon resources under any foreseeable circumstances, including possible military conflict with the United States. It seems doubtful that Chinese energy companies' fledgling efforts to lock up petroleum resources will succeed in keeping a critical mass of oil reserves off an increasingly integrated and fluid global oil market. Nevertheless, China's search for oil is making it a new competitor to the United States for influence in the Middle East. If not managed prudently, this competition will generate multiple points of bilateral friction and damage U.S. strategic interests in the region.

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