China's Energy Relations with the Developing World

By Liao, Janet Xuanli | The China Journal, January 2013 | Go to article overview

China's Energy Relations with the Developing World


Liao, Janet Xuanli, The China Journal


Chinas Energy Relations with the Developing World, edited by Carrie Liu Currier and Manochehr Dorraj . London: Continuum, 2011. xiv + 221 pp. £17.99/US$29.95 (paperback).

The Chinese economy has experienced unprecedented development over the past 30 years. By 2010, China had not only become the world's largest exporter and the second largest economy, after the United States, but had also increased its GDP per capita from US$193 in 1980 to US$4,428, according to the World Bank. Such success has come at a cost, and there have been heated debates, especially over the past decade, about issues such as its deteriorating environment, its increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and its strategies for finding energy overseas. Chinas Energy Relations with the Developing World, edited by Carrie Liu Currie and Manochehr Dorraj, contributes new wisdom to the analysis of this last issue.

The book involved 12 scholars from the fields of political science and international relations, mainly from the United States. It comprises three parts and ten chapters: "Theoretical and Historical Overview" (Chapters 1-3), "Regional Cases Studies" (Chapters 4-8) and "Challenges for the Future" (Chapters 9-10).

In the introductory chapter, Currier and Dorraj see Part I as setting up a theoretical framework, focusing on "whether China is a status quo or a revisionist power, particularly as it finds itself increasingly at odds with US interests in the international realm" (p. 8). Chapter 2 ("The Evolution of China's Grand Strategy with the Developing World") by Lui Hebron covers four periods of Chinese history: Imperial/Republican China, the Mao era, the Deng epoch and the post-Cold War order, focusing in particular on the current relationship between China and the developing world. He concludes that China will remain a developing country into the foreseeable future, and is likely to continue its peaceful development strategy. In Chapter 3 ("Domestic Political Context for China's Quest for Energy Security"), Jean A. Garrison investigates China's energy shortage and its decentralized policy-making and implementation, and indicates China's lack of a "coherent energy strategy that geopolitical analyses assume". Yet she specifically devotes a section to the challenges posed by climate change and the likelihood of Sino-US collaboration, concluding with warnings on China's sustainable development and on the multiple challenges to its energy security (pp. 39 and 54). Part I provides a sound background for understanding China's foreign and energy policy, but few of the case-study chapters employ it as a theoretical framework for their analysis.

Part II includes five chapters on China's energy engagements with different regions. Chapter 4 by Currier and Dorraj is about China's dealings with the Middle East, particularly with Iran and Saudi Arabia, while the US factor, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the rise of the "Second World" (the BRIC plus Saudi Arabia and Venezuela) are also drawn into the discussion to indicate the power struggles involved in energy competition. The conclusion argues that, with a changing global power structure, China's economic and political leverage offers an alternative to states estranged by the foreign policy choices of the US, while these states also see that they are "no longer marginalized members on the periphery, but are regional players with significant assets and power to set the agenda that affects their political destiny" (p. 79). The implication seems to be that China is in the process of creating a different world order aiming to support states that feel marginalized and against the interests of the US. However, this is not well supported by the evidence provided in the chapter.

Chapter 5 by Gregory Gleason is on "China, Russia, and Central Asia: Triangular Energy Politics". The discussion includes the energy policies of all the parties, but offers little on how these policies interact.

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