Deconstructing China’s energy security strategy

Given continued American global naval supremacy, which is unlikely to be challenged successfully in the foreseeable future, Beijing’s highest strategic priority is to ensure energy security by connecting friendly major oil and gas producers to China via pipelines transiting through land routes beyond the effective military reach of the United States. If successful, within a generation China’s new “Silk Roads” – land pipelines, together with roads and railways – will transport enough oil and gas to meet the country’s import requirements. Currently, China is highly dependent upon oil and gas imports, principally from the Persian Gulf and Africa, which are carried mainly by tankers over sea lines of communication and through maritime choke points controlled by the U.S. Navy. An energy imports cutoff enforced by a naval blockade would trigger a rapid collapse of China’s economy and paralyze its military forces, reducing the country to a paper dragon. The Pentagon is convinced that China will fail in its attempt to circumvent American control of the global maritime commons. Its 2016 annual report to Congress on China concludes: “Given China’s growing energy demand, new pipelines will alleviate only slightly China’s maritime dependency … the sheer volume of oil and liquefied natural gas that is imported … will make strategic SLOCs increasingly important to China.” While the Pentagon’s assessment is certainly true for the short term, it would not be prudent to shape long term American grand strategy with respect to China on the premise of Beijing’s continued dependence on seaborne energy imports.

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