Shaping China's Energy Security: The Inside Perspective

By Lin, Kun-Chin | The China Journal, July 2009 | Go to article overview
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Shaping China's Energy Security: The Inside Perspective

Lin, Kun-Chin, The China Journal

Shaping China's Energy Security: The Inside Perspective, edited by Michael Meidan. Paris: Asia Centre/Centre études Asie, 2007. 239 pp. euro22.00 (France), euro25.00 (Europe), euro26.00 (elsewhere) (paperback).

This edited book contributes significantly to our understanding of energy policies and politics in China. Divided into four parts, it covers a broad range of topics and analytical approaches, including institutional analysis of the regulatory framework, sectoral analysis of the coal, oil and power industries, policy analysis of energy tax and environmental regulation, and normative discussions of China's potential contributions to international diplomacy on global warming. Prominent scholars from the UK, France, the US, China and Japan provide a useful representation of the range of research on China's energy sector.

The overarching theme is the Chinese state's capacity to address the growing sense of energy insecurity - defined as "strategic threats" posed by supply disruptions, efficiency and sustainability in energy usage, price volatility, and environmental degradation (p. 16). The authors encourage us to think beyond the conventional emphasis on supply-side policies and procurement, to investigate the political choices emerging from the key regulators' strategic interactions with stakeholders and to incorporate the macroeconomic, social and foreign policy, and fiscal and legal dimensions of energy security. They highlight the unresolved issues of corporate governance and economic efficiency in the aftermath of the restructuring of the national oil and petrochemical corporations (NOCs) and privatization of coal sectors in the late 1990s.

Chapter 1 by Michal Meidan, Philips Andrews-Speed and Ma Xin proposes an analytical framework for energy policy-making, listing and briefly characterizing the central state regulators and a variety of stakeholders. Not surprisingly, the main relationship affecting policy output is that between ministries and state-owned firms such as the national oil corporations. The chapter could benefit from greater clarity about the interests of the regulators, in particular by differentiating clearly between economic and technical concerns on the one hand and fiscal imperatives on the other. This neglect of the fiscal aspects of energy policies is a problem throughout the book.

Meidan, Andrews-Speed and Ma are absolutely right that the cherished "fragmented authoritarianism" model of bureaucratic politics does not account adequately for the emerging regulatory landscape on energy policies. Simply stated, there are more autonomous interests and energy-related issues to consider today than there were in the late 1980s. The issue linkages implied in this more inclusive analytical framework are laid out for three policy bundles encapsulating different statist priorities - energy supply, the relationship between energy supply and efficiency, and the relationship between energy efficiency and environmental protection (pp. 58-61). I would have liked to see a critical assessment of the key predictions of the fragmented authoritarian model; however, this chapter serves as a reference point for future theory-building.

Erica Downs' work on the relative autonomy of NOCs is highly respected; in Chapter 2 she turns to the supply side of policies and regulation. Her account adopts the language of the fragmented authoritarian model, but her findings push the model's boundaries. I would have liked to see more precision about the current functions of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and an assessment of the relative rule-making activism and enforcement presence of the agencies across issue areas would be informative. Downs underscores the continuing usefulness for élite promotion of work experience in the oil sector does this pattern suggest factionalism with an "oil clique" as its base? Do regulators consider job prospects in the NOCs when they design or enforce policies?

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