July 27, 2011

Book Review: China's Energy Strategy

did most of my reading of China’s
Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing's Maritime Policies
in airports
and on planes to and around Asia earlier this year. I can honestly call this
book invaluable in my prep for maritime security roundtables and for speaking
to individuals and groups about resources in the evolving South China Sea

China’s Energy Strategy was edited by
Gabriel B. Collins, Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein and china<br />  energyWilliam S. Murray
from the Naval War College for the Naval Institute Press. It is part of a phenomenal series
on China
co-edited by Erickson, one of the security community’s great
up-and-coming analysts. Published in 2008, it includes 4 sections: on energy’s
role in China’s national security strategy; its global approach to accessing
energy (including chapters on Iran, Africa and the Indian Ocean); ties between
its energy needs and access denial/naval development; and U.S.-China relations
with regard to energy. All of the authors in this volume know both the natural
resources and area studies games well – a rare combination of individuals who
can get the China analysis and energy analysis right.

glory of this tome isn’t just that it pulls together all the globally-dispersed
pieces of China’s energy strategy into a comprehensive picture. The book
includes a fair bit of new material and concepts not addressed in the
mainstream Western press because a fair bit of material is translated from
Chinese-language sources. This adds a new, more nuanced layer to China’s energy
thinking than portrayed anywhere else.

South China Sea chapter in particular is prescient, if pessimistic. Its author,
James Garofano, Dean of Academic Affairs at the Naval War College, ends on a
section reviewing why this body of water is “Ripe for Renewed Confrontation.”

A trio of
motivations – in particular, nationalism and territoriality, energy security,
and influence over vital SLOC – will naturally drive Beijing to exert greater
presence and control…when China is confronted with problems that have no
win-win solution and are matters of important national interests – as in
dam-building along the Mekong River system – Beijing has shown that it chooses
brutal self-interest over cooperation with smaller states.

afraid, based on our months of research, that pressures pushing away from
cooperation go beyond “motivations” and countries safeguarding their interests.
In China I heard much discussion over fossil fuel-related cooperation with no
real acknowledgement of structural
impediments, such as financial and legal restrictions by countries and national
oil companies on joint development and investment. I hope Garafano’s pessimism
turns out to be unwarranted, but I also have yet to see a clear path to ensuring
that cooperation most often prevails over confrontation.

I could make any request from the NWC to improve this volume, it would be to
make each chapter available for individual download (which I don’t believe they
do now) as the National Bureau of Asian Research does with its wonderful Strategic Asia
series. Anyone serious about China or energy or both should invest in the hard
copy of this book, but its influence could be multiplied if researchers could
more easily access or purchase chapters specifically relevant to their work.
The unusually high quality and readability of each chapter warrants a little
extra effort to ensure that it is read as widely as possible. 

Photo courtesy of andrewerickson.com.