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China’s Hunt for Oil Complicates Game of Thrones

One of the byproducts of China’s rapid modernization is its increasing dependence on oil from the Middle East. China now gets about half of its oil from the Persian Gulf countries, and its never-ending thirst for crude has profound geopolitical ramifications.

Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal has a neat summary highlighting the importance of the Middle East in the Asian Game of Thrones and what that means for China’s relationship with the United States:

Many believe that greater Chinese involvement, especially in tasks such as protecting global commerce, will lead the country to support the international order the U.S. created after World War II—and from which China has benefited so much.  Others worry that China’s rapid naval modernization and desire to play a bigger global role will complicate American foreign policy, and help cloak the country’s military capabilities as it strives for parity with the U.S.

One thing is certain: China’s quest for a modern navy coincides with its transformation from an oil exporter to an oil importer, with most of that crude winding its way through narrow chokepoints controlled by the U.S. Navy.

Missing from this analysis is the role of India. People tend to forget that there are more players in this game than the United States and China. India’s concerns about the security of its own trade with the Middle East will play a huge role as China tries to project naval power into the Indian Ocean.

The first instinct of Americans raised during the Cold War is to reach back to our experience of that era of superpower rivalry. Smart geopolitical analysis of the Asia-Pacific region has to start by recognizing that there are many significant powers in the area. What is evolving in Asia is a system—not a binary struggle between the United States and China. Nudging this system in the direction of a peaceful, stable and open Asia must be a primary aim of U.S. foreign policy in the coming decades.

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  • Anthony

    “What is evolving in Asia is a system….” The system may yet be led by China (while multipolar and balanced) given its advantages/resources. The aforementioned assumes China is status quo power and content with its present position in the international system.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    China doesn’t want to be a good neighbor, it wants an Empire and seeks to get it by bullying its neighbors. For example the US has a huge trade deficit with China, making America China’s biggest customer, but their Generals regularly threaten war with the US, this is not the action of a nation looking to maintain good trade relations with its biggest customer.

  • Jim.

    So if we’re not supposed to look at Superpower Rivalry as our guide to action these days, could Professor Mead recommend some good books on the Concert of Europe that could provide us with an overall structure of how to work in a multi-Power world?

  • silia

    The ‘game of thrones’ trope is getting a bit worn.

  • Eurydice

    Yes, and add to that list of players the actual producers in the Middle East – they’ve been accustomed to the US style of involvement in the region.

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