China presided over the world's first importing-nation-only energy summit in December, a meeting intended to herald a slow opening of China's tightly-controlled energy and oil sectors.
The international community has been trying to draw China out of its shell for years. The goal is to persuade Beijing to increase the transparency of its operations, enforce environmental and efficiency standards, and participate in global responses to disruptions in the oil supply.
"In spite of the very dire predictions that people have made about looming conflict over access to resources there's beginning to be an alignment of views between China and the West," said Kevin Rosser, head of oil and gas consulting for Control Risks Group.
During the summit, attended by India, China, South Korea, Japan and the US, Beijing signed a number of significant deals, including a contract with US-based Westinghouse Electric Company to develop four new nuclear reactors.
Then in January, CITIC Group acquired the Kazakhstan oil assets of a Canadian company. The high profile deal capped a barrage of investments in Africa and the Middle East in the last two years by state oil giants.
"They need to maintain growth to ensure social stability," Rosser said. "To some extent energy security equates with regime security in a way that it just doesn't in the United States or Europe."
China's energy security strategy, which emphasizes acquiring oil resources directly, may be where the line is drawn on change and cooperation. In recent years, China has been accused of sweetening oil deals with soft loans or outright bribes as well as undermining Western policy by doing business in diplomatic no-go zones.
Looking for partners
While China is unlikely to alter its practices abroad, neither can it continue pursuing them on its own. According to DBS Vickers analyst Gideon Lo, there is likely to be more collaboration with emerging nations.
"On the one hand there's a lot of cooperation opportunity but on the other hand there's a lot of competition," Lo said. "It all depends on which places and in what moment."
The crux is that, while China looks more at collaborating on energy acquisitions, it will only go forwards on its own terms. No matter how many importer summits are held, if an opportunity is there, Beijing will do whatever it takes to secure it.
"They're always going to serve their own interests first," said Jim Brock, a Beijing-based energy consultant. He notes that a lack of trust between the parties involved tends to undermine any cooperative efforts.
"I think the Chinese wish list is to put together something that could counter an OPEC. The question is whether they're going to subordinate their interests to the cartel."
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