Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Iraq, oil and realpolitik: the view from China

This Washington Post article describes the view from China concerning oil, the US invasion of Iraq and future geopolitical conflict.

One issue I have not seen discussed by oil analysts is that China is only now building a strategic reserve capacity (previously, they have not had any strategic reserve). Could their one-time purchases to stock the reserve be driving up current oil prices? Perhaps $60 per barrel is not indicative of future prices.

...Through cultivation of Saddam Hussein's government, China sought to develop some of Iraq's more promising reserves. Beijing advocated lifting the United Nations sanctions that prevented investment in Iraq's oil patch and limited sales of its production.

Then the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003, wiping out China's stakes. The war and its aftermath have reshaped China's basic conception of the geopolitics of oil and added urgency to its mission to lessen dependence on Middle East supplies. It has reinforced China's fears that it is locked in a zero-sum contest for energy with the world's lone superpower, prompting Beijing to intensify its search for new sources, international relations and energy experts say.

..."Iraq changed the government's thinking," said Pan Rui, an international relations expert at Fudan University in Shanghai. "The Middle East is China's largest source of oil. America is now pursuing a grand strategy, the pursuit of American hegemony in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is the number one oil producer, and Iraq is number two [in terms of reserves]. Now, the United States has direct influence in both countries."

...Many other factors help explain China's motives in dispatching its energy companies abroad for new stocks. Oil demand is exploding in China as people embrace automobiles and as factories, apartment towers and office buildings proliferate. For the third summer in a row, China is rationing energy, limiting production in industrial areas.

...Concern is mounting about future prospects for China's domestic oil production, which supplies about two-thirds of the country's crude oil needs. China's government estimates that it will need 600 million tons of crude oil a year by 2020, more than triple its expected output. Worldwide, the best oil fields are already claimed.

..."Many people argue that oil interests are the driving force behind the Iraq war," said Zhu Feng, a security expert at Beijing University. "For China, it has been a reminder and a warning about how geopolitical changes can affect its own energy interests. So China has decided to focus much more intently to address its security."

...This year, China began work on a strategic oil reserve in coastal Zhejiang province that would allow the country to operate without imports for as long as three months. But the biggest emphasis has been on securing new stocks abroad, particularly in neighboring countries such as Kazakhstan and Russia, to limit dependence on shipping lanes.


Calculated Risk said...

It is my understanding that China has not started filling their oil reserves - so there probably is no impact on the price of oil yet (unless they are contracting for the future).

The US SPR will be full in August. That will free up 75,000 BBLs per day. The Supply curve is so steep for oil that a small decrease in demand might have an impact on price.

Best Regards!

Anonymous said...

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