There is no doubt that the story of oil and China is a dramatic one, with grand geo-political dimensions. China now relies on the US to keep the sea lanes secure for its oil coming in tankers from the Middle East.
China, quite naturally, doesn't want to rely on the US for its security indefinitely, and is in the early stages of tooling up its ship-building industry to construct its own bluewater navy.
Such an ability to project its power, of course, will not be seen so benignly in the US, nor in Japan and perhaps not even in Southeast Asia or India. A Chinese bluewater navy will change the regional security calculus for good.
China's oil diplomacy also has global political dimensions, as it enthusiastically embraces energy-rich countries like Sudan and Venezuela which are pariahs in the US.
Such conflicts leave the impression that China is heavily dependent on imports for its energy, just like North Asia's other giant economies, Japan and South Korea, which both import about 95% of their energy needs.
In fact, by comparison, China is not nearly so reliant on the rest of the world. At the moment, China imports about – wait for it – about 13% of its energy needs. That dependency is growing, to be sure, but it is not as large as the headlines suggest.
The reason is that China is coal rich. Oil will remain important, but just as important, and much less noticed, is China's coal policy. The key is a number of large projects trying to turn coal into oil, something that may have become economic with the oil trending above US$50 a barrel in recent times.
Shenhua, the country's biggest coal company, has projects on the drawing board worth about US$30bn for coal liquefaction and gasification. Not all of them will get central government approval, but at least one of them will, and could become a prototype for other large ventures.
A number of foreign companies have a large interest in this. Chief among them is SAOIL, the South African company which became a world leader in this technology when forced under the pressure of apartheid sanctions to find a substitute for oil.
Shell is also joining hands with Shenhua. And in Taiyuan, the coal capital of Shaanxi province, China is also developing its own technology.
It is hard to overstate how important this process is. Unlike Japan, which felt it had to go to war when confronted by embargoes in the late thirties, China thankfully might have a home-grown source of oil once the stuff that it now pumps out of the ground runs out.
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