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Defying the Economic Odds: The World Melts Down, China Grows

A new world order is emerging from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with its center gravitating towards China.

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On top of that came China's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, which led to a dramatic jump in its exports. An average economic expansion of 12% a year became the norm.

When the credit crash in North America and the EU caused a powerful drop in China's exports, throwing millions of migrant workers in the industrialized coastal cities out of work, the authorities in Beijing focused on controlling the unemployment rate and maintaining the wages of the employed. They can now claim an urban unemployment rate of a mere 4.2% because many of the laid-off factory workers returned to their home villages. Those who did not were encouraged to enroll in government-sponsored retraining programs to acquire higher skills for better jobs in the future.

Whereas most Western leaders could do nothing more than castigate bankers filling their pockets with bonuses as the balance sheets of their companies went crimson red, the Chinese government compelled top managers at major state-owned companies to cut their salaries by 15% to 40% before tinkering with the remuneration of their workforce.

To ensure the continued rapid expansion of China's economy, which is directly related to the country's level of energy consumption, its leaders are inking many contracts for future supplies of oil and natural gas with foreign corporations.

Energy Security

Once China became an oil importer in 1993, it proved voracious. Its imports doubled every three years. This made it vulnerable to the vagaries of the international oil market and led the government to embed energy security in its foreign policy. It decided to actively participate in hydrocarbon prospecting and energy production projects abroad as well as in transnational pipeline construction. By now, the diversification of China's foreign sources of oil and gas (and their transportation) has become a cardinal principle of its foreign ministry.

Conscious of the volatility of the Middle East, the leading source of oil exports, China has scoured Africa, Australia, and Latin America for petroleum and natural gas deposits, along with other minerals needed for industry and construction. In Africa, it focused on Angola, Congo, Nigeria, and Sudan. By 2004, China's oil imports from these nations were three-fifths the size of those from the Persian Gulf region.

Nearer home, China began locking up energy deals with Russia and the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan long before the current collapse in oil prices and the global credit crunch hit. Now, reeling from the double whammy of low energy prices and the credit squeeze, Russia's leading oil company and pipeline operator recently agreed to provide 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) in additional oil to China over 25 years for a $25 billion loan from the state-controlled China Development Bank. Likewise, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corp agreed to lend Kazakhstan $10 billion as part of a joint venture to develop its hydrocarbon reserves.

Similarly, Beijing continued to make inroads into the oil and gas regions of South America. As relations between Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and the Bush administration worsened, ties with China strengthened. In 2006, during his fourth visit to Beijing since becoming president in 1999, Chavez revealed that Venezuela's oil exports to China would treble in three years to 500,000 bpd. Along with a joint refinery project to handle Venezuelan oil in China, the Chinese companies contracted to build a dozen oil-drilling platforms, supply 18 oil tankers, and collaborate with PdVSA, the state-owned Venezuelan oil company, to explore new oilfields in Venezuela.

During Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's tour of South America in January 2009, the China Development Bank agreed to loan PdVSA $6 billion for oil to be supplied to China over the next 20 years. Since then China has agreed to double its development fund to $12 billion, in return for which Venezuela is to increase its oil shipments from the current 380,000 bpd to one million bpd.

 
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