Academic journal article Asian Perspective

China's Puzzling Energy Diplomacy toward Iran

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

China's Puzzling Energy Diplomacy toward Iran

Article excerpt

China, the world's largest energy consumer, has sought to build up its ties with all energy-rich countries. But China's energy diplomacy toward Iran, one of its largest oil suppliers, is puzzling. On the one hand, China has gone all out to strengthen its ties with Iran in spite of international efforts to isolate Iran because of its controversial nuclear program. On the other hand, China not only has voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council on the nuclear issue, but also has cut its oil imports from Iran. The main explanation for this apparent contradiction is US pressure. China has yielded to the pressure because the United States and its allies are much more important for China's economic development and energy security than is Iran. KEYWORDS: China's energy diplomacy, China-Iran relations, China at the UN.

In recent decades, CHINA'S energy diplomacy has generated considerable scholarly attention, focusing on the nature and impact of China's efforts to acquire overseas access to international energy markets as well as on the implications of those efforts for regional and international security (Andrews-Speed, Liao, and Dannreuther 2002; Downs and Maloney 2006; Andrews-Speed and Dannreuther 2011). Some analysts argue that China's energy diplomacy is neomercantilist, aimed at locking up energy resources around the world for its own development (Zweig and Bi 2005; Lieberthal and Herberg 2006; Leverett 2009). Accordingly, China has intensified competition for scarce energy resources among energy- consuming countries in general and the United States, Japan, and India in particular (Jaffe and Lewis 2002; Lee 2005; Leverett and Bader 2005-2006; Wesley 2007; Suisheng Zhao 2008). Other analysts point out that China's energy- (and, in general, resource) ) trade and investment relations with some African countries have compromised the international community's good governance efforts (Alden 2005; Taylor 2006; Broadman et al. 2007). The International Energy Agency (IEA) implies that China poses some serious challenges to international energy markets (IEA 2000).

Still other analysts challenge these negative evaluations and argue that, rather than being a threat to international energy markets and international security or a challenge to the United States, China's energy diplomacy in fact provides an opportunity for the international community in general and the United States in particular to cooperate with China to ensure energy security at the global level (Dreyer 2007; Lai 2007; Zha and Hu 2007; Garrison 2009; Kong 2010). For instance, Erica S. Downs and Suzanne Maloney point out that the majority of China's equity oil has been traded on international energy markets rather than shipped back to supply its domestic market. The effect of China's energy diplomacy, they argue, has been to increase energy supplies to global markets (Downs and Maloney 2006; 2007).

A third point of view contends that China's worldwide quest for oil has been both a challenge and an opportunity for Western countries. On the one hand, China's energy security strategy has shifted from a neomercantilist approach to "one that recognizes the role of international oil markets and the underlying support provided to this stance by Western-dominated economic, political and military structures" (Dannreuther 2011, 1347). On the other hand, China not only has established "strategic 'balancing'" with certain energy-rich countries with explicit anti-Western stances, such as Russia and Iran, but also has increased its strategic presence and influence in the Gulf, which "inevitably involves a challenge to US hegemony in the region" (Dannreuther 2011, 1347).

These varying perspectives clearly diverge on the nature and impact of China's energy diplomacy. But one theme in common is that China has been proactively conducting energy diplomacy toward all energy-rich countries across the world, regardless of these countries' internal politics. …

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