China's Global Hunt for Energy

Courtesy Reuters


An unprecedented need for resources is now driving China's foreign policy. A booming domestic economy, rapid urbanization, increased export processing, and the Chinese people's voracious appetite for cars are increasing the country's demand for oil and natural gas, industrial and construction materials, foreign capital and technology. Twenty years ago, China was East Asia's largest oil exporter. Now it is the world's second-largest importer; last year, it alone accounted for 31 percent of global growth in oil demand. Now that China is the workshop of the world, its hunger for electricity and industrial resources has soared. China's combined share of the world's consumption of aluminum, copper, nickel, and iron ore more than doubled within only ten years, from 7 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2000; it has now reached about 20 percent and is likely to double again by the end of the decade. Despite calls by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other politicians to cut consumption of energy and other resources, there is little sign of this appetite abating. Justin Yifu Lin, director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University, in Beijing, says the country's economy could grow at 9 percent per year for the next 20 years.

These new needs already have serious implications for China's foreign policy. Beijing's access to foreign resources is necessary both for continued economic growth and, because growth is the cornerstone of China's social stability, for the survival of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since China remains a relatively centralized, government-driven economy, Beijing has been able to adapt its foreign policy to its domestic development strategy. Traditional institutions, such as the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group of the CCP, are still making the key decisions, but a more pluralistic environment is emerging and allowing business leaders to help shape foreign policy. The China Institute for International Studies, a government think tank, holds numerous conferences bringing together academics and leaders in business, the military, and the government to devise strategies for the top rung of

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