Sino-US Energy Triangle: Resource Diplomacy under Hegemony

  • Published

Sino-US Energy Triangle: Resource Diplomacy under Hegemony, edited by David Zweig and Yufan Hao. Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2016, 308 pp.

Editors David Zweig and Yufan Hao are distinguished academics from Hong Kong University and the University of Macau, respectively. In preparing Sino-US Energy Triangle: Resource Diplomacy under Hegemony, they have managed to bring together noteworthy academics and research scholars with critical expertise in the study of energy, resource economics, and geopolitics as well as other supporting academic fields such as international affairs, international relations, and security studies. The purpose of this body of work is to investigate the assertion that the increasing hegemonic power of China competes with US power and influence around the world, thus causing the United States to slow China's growth by affecting its access to oil from resource-rich countries (RRC). In essence, America has created a triangular containment policy of sorts to inhibit China's continued rise. While China becomes more dependent on foreign oil, the United States is seeking to build resource relationships with RRCs that ultimately restrict China's access to the same.
The opening chapters describe resource diplomacy, identifying US/China energy needs and their energy strategy going forward, underscoring the increasing level of US energy self-reliance and China's growing dependence on foreign energy sources. The United States has reduced its oil imports by 50 percent since 2005, and half of US oil imports come from friendly neighbors Canada and Mexico.
China is now the largest net importer of oil in the world, all derived from a wide array of sources. Its energy consumption is dramatically outpacing its production and refining capacity. Between 2002-2012 China's oil consumption rose 250 percent. By 2035, 76 percent of China's energy utilization will be derived from oil and will represent 26 percent of the world's energy consumption. While China is investing in renewable resources and has a larger reserve of shale oil than the United States, it is unable to leverage these advantages in a meaningful way for the foreseeable future.
By directly addressing their premise, the authors divide RRCs into three categories seen from a US perspective. The first category is Pariah countries, those operating outside of accepted international norms and expectations of responsible states. The policies and practices of these Pariah countries are inconsistent with US values, often going against national security interests. The second category is Neutral countries, those states that operate within international norms and are indifferent toward the United States and China. The third category of countries is those countries seen as Ally states of the United States Within this operating framework, the individual authors of each chapter analyze the triangular and interstate dealings.
The authors collectively believe China is working hard at winning favor with RRCs through such things as government loans, foreign direct investment, and debt relief. It is also indirectly playing US RRC allies against US hegemonic interests. Specifically, China has well-established relationships with the Pariah countries of Iran, Sudan, and Venezuela, two of whom have significant sanctions imposed upon them by the United Nations. This creates a difficult situation for China in terms of international relations. China is balancing its energy needs relative to the international status of sourcing countries while dealing with the fallout of adverse relationships that exist between many of these same countries (e.g., Iran and Saudi Arabia). As such, China now imports 40 percent less of its oil from Iran than in the recent past.
China has aggressively sought reserves from Neutral countries, deriving 42 percent of its oil from them, (e.g., oil and mining resources from Angola and Kazakhstan, oil from Nigeria and Brazil). China's no-strings-attached business approach, bilateral aid, infrastructure development assistance, and investment tactics have won favor in these countries. By comparison, frequent US policy shifts have made the United States an unreliable customer, straining economic relationships with many Neutral RRCs.
Historical US allies such as Canada, Australia, and Saudi Arabia have been extensively wooed by similar investment activities. Saudi Arabia now exports more oil to China than to the United States while investing in Chinese oil refineries. China is also a heavy investor in Australian mineral resources, Canadian oil exploration, tar sands, and oil infrastructure, while the United States remains the largest importer of Canadian oil.
The overall picture is geopolitically and economically complex. Oil security may be emerging as the biggest component of China's foreign policy. While China becomes progressively a more direct counterbalance to US hegemony in international affairs, its dependence on foreign oil and other resources weaves a complex fabric of triangular relationships. China finds itself pitted against US strategic and economic interests around the world, a mix of stable to unstable RRCs and their whims as resource providers, international institutions promoting global order, and a highly competitive globalized market place.
The authors' conclusion is anxiety over China's energy access and US competition is overdone. Furthermore, there is little proof the United States is trying to slow China's rise by restricting its access to oil. China needs to worry more about the stability and reliability of sourcing countries, such as Saudi Arabia's economy and political situation, and less about US competition for Saudi oil. Saudi Arabia needs to worry more about China buying oil from Iraq and other RRCs than the US pursuit of energy self-reliance. Finally, China needs to figure out how to walk the diplomatic tightrope of securing the resources it badly needs from RRCs while ensuring it does not alienate itself from the international community.
This is a superbly researched, plaited, and articulated contribution to the body of knowledge on this issue. The case studies analyzed were highly relevant, fairly representative, and distinguishable, while the synergy between them thoroughly investigated the authors' hypothesis. There are no notable redundancies of information between chapters. My only criticism is that some of the sourced data is a bit dated. Many of the figures referenced are five to 10 years old, which detracts somewhat from the general comprehensive quality of research scholarship involved in writing this manuscript.
This book is a good read for scholars, academics, government officials, military leaders, and private sector enterprises seeking a better understanding of the dynamics of energy diplomacy, national security, and state economic grand strategy.

Dr. David A. Anderson
Professor of Strategic Studies,
US Army Command and General Staff College

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."