Central Asia's Role in China's Energy Security: Challenges and Opportunities

Central Asia's Role in China's Energy Security: Challenges and Opportunities

Paulo Afonso Brardo Duarte (University of Minho, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4203-2.ch009
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Central Asia has gained extraordinary importance in recent years in the framework of global energy security. China is the most significant example of a power that looks to its periphery as a viable option for energy supply. In Central Asia, Chinese companies are dynamic players having even broken the long Soviet and Russian monopoly over regional pipelines. This chapter examines the importance of the region within China's energy security, while not overlooking the potential contribution of the China-Pakistan economic corridor in the energy transit. In addition, Central Asia is likely to help China reduce the energy deficit in Xinjiang, through the import of hydroelectricity generated in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Although Central Asia's contribution to global energy security is low, it matters in a context of energy diversification, in which China's One Belt One Road brought a more promising dynamics to the cooperation between Beijing and Central Asian countries.
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Central Asia has often been neglected by many political commentators, although the region offers extraordinary opportunities to help China mitigate the impact of the so-called Malacca Dilemma. The latter refers to the Chinese economy’s excessive reliance and vulnerability to pressure at the Straits of Malacca. Much of China’s oil comes from West Asia and Africa and around 80 percent of this passes through the Straits of Malacca. Should the Straits of Malacca be threatened or come under the influence of hostile states, China’s trade could be choked. The resulting energy crisis could paralyze its economy. The fear of a maritime blockade – in vital chokepoints, as Malacca – by rival powers (United States, Japan, India...), has led China to prioritise the energy issue, raising it to the level of threat to the national interest. This explains the Going Abroad policy, whereby the Chinese National Oil Companies (NOCs) are encouraged by the Government to acquire the maximum possible participation in consortia, oil exploration rights, equity oil, and foreign oil companies.

In this sense, the main contribution of this chapter for the development of Science is to make known the role of Central Asia within the framework of the initiative to diversify the sources of energy supply, which China has carried out since 1993, when the country stopped being an oil exporter and started importing this resource from various parts of the world. Among the challenges and opportunities that Central Asia is likely to offer to China, attention will be paid not only to the case of oil and natural gas, but also of water. This is, in practice, another fundamental contribution that this chapter aims to provide to a reader who is generally more used to understanding the importance of the region as strictly associated with oil and gas production, neglecting the other major energy added value of Central Asia: water and the resulting ability to generate electricity from it. Apparently insignificant states in terms of oil and gas production, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, are, however, upstream countries with regard to the existing water resources in the region, holding a remarkable potential for hydroelectricity production. As such, and because China’s energy needs are not confined to oil and gas, Central Asia can be important in the supply of electricity to China’s remote regions which are affected by a high energy deficit, such as Xinjiang, where electricity failures sometimes last for several consecutive hours daily. Another goal of this chapter is to explain the relevance of the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, susceptible to drain more quickly Central Asian energy production to world markets, and, at the same time, to allow the oil from abroad to arrive to China without having to cross long and sensitive sea routes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Rogun: One of the planned hydroelectric power plants to be built in southern Tajikistan. The dam is controversial as it has drawn complaints from Uzbekistan, which fears it will give Tajikistan an almost absolute control over water resources in the region.

Malacca Dilemma: This refers to China’s fear of a maritime blockade at the Straits of Malacca. Since most of China’s oil imports pass through the Straits of Malacca, a maritime blockade here could paralyze China’s economy.

One Belt One Road: A multifaceted plan that combines soft power, hard power, political, social, and economic aspects. The OBOR aims to relaunch the Chinese economy, preserve the continuity of the Communist Party and to create a favorable environment at the international level to foster the reemergence of China.

Energy Security: A state’s need to ensure a stable energy supply at reasonable prices.

New Great Game: The attempt to control Central Asia’s oil and gas, as well as the regional pipelines, has been associated to the idea of a 'New Great Game', by analogy to the “Great Game” of the 19 th century between the Russian and the British empires.

Securitization: According to the Copenhagen School, the securitization is a process whereby a securitizing agent tries to establish, socially, the existence of a threat to the survival of a unit.

CIS Countries: A group of countries that form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Created in December 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, CIS currently unites Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.

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