Robert Lawrence Kuhn and Florence Eid-Oakden say as US interest in the Middle East apparently wanes, China's appetite for its oil means it is beginning to play a bigger role in its affairs
Robert Lawrence Kuhn and Florence Eid-Oakden
South China Morning - December 20, 2013
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to the Middle East and North
Africa - Palestine, Israel, Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia - is
noteworthy on several levels. It recognises the importance of the region
for China's energy security and it reflects the country's growing
participation in world affairs.
Both trends are likely to continue as China's position in the world
rises and as it feels pressure to protect its vital interests. It is in
this context that we explore China's Middle East strategy.
In past decades, it was the United States that needed to immerse
itself deeply in Middle Eastern affairs, due to its dependence on oil
imports. In a historic turn of fortunes, now it is China's chance.
China imports about 60 per cent of its oil from Middle East
countries. This compares with about 25 per cent of US oil imports from
the region. With the upsurge in American domestic oil and natural gas
production, US oil imports from the Middle East are projected to drop to
almost zero. China, by contrast, could see its Middle East oil imports
more than double, to nearly 7 million barrels per day, becoming a major
dependency for China.
Saudi Arabia is China's largest supplier, accounting for about 20 per
cent of crude oil imports. Happily, the kingdom is a secure and
reliable source, navigating intelligently the volatility that surrounds
it. However, China needs more oil, including from Iran and Iraq, each
with its own set of problems.