Has Obama Just Launched a Dangerous New Cold War in Asia Driven By Energy Concerns?
Continued from previous page
“Over the last 10 years,” she writes, “we have allocated immense resources to [Iraq and Afghanistan]. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership [and] secure our interests… One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Such thinking, with its distinctly military focus, appears dangerously provocative. The steps announced entail an increased military presence in waters bordering China and enhanced military ties with that country’s neighbors — moves certain to arouse alarm in Beijing and strengthen the hand of those in the ruling circle (especially in the Chinese military leadership) who favor a more activist, militarized response to U.S. incursions. Whatever forms that takes, one thing is certain: the leadership of the globe’s number two economic power is not going to let itself appear weak and indecisive in the face of an American buildup on the periphery of its country. This, in turn, means that we may be sowing the seeds of a new Cold War in Asia in 2011.
The U.S. military buildup and the potential for a powerful Chinese counter-thrust have already been the subject of discussion in the American and Asian press. But one crucial dimension of this incipient struggle has received no attention at all: the degree to which Washington’s sudden moves have been dictated by a fresh analysis of the global energy equation, revealing (as the Obama administration sees it) increased vulnerabilities for the Chinese side and new advantages for Washington.
The New Energy Equation
For decades, the United States has been heavily dependent on imported oil, much of it obtained from the Middle East and Africa, while China was largely self-sufficient in oil output. In 2001, the United States consumed 19.6 million barrels of oil per day, while producing only nine million barrels itself. The dependency on foreign suppliers for that 10.6 million-barrel shortfall proved a source of enormous concern for Washington policymakers. They responded by forging ever closer, more militarized ties with Middle Eastern oil producers and going to war on occasion to ensure the safety of U.S. supply lines.
In 2001, China, on the other hand, consumed only five million barrels per day and so, with a domestic output of 3.3 million barrels, needed to import only 1.7 million barrels. Those cold, hard numbers made its leadership far less concerned about the reliability of the country’s major overseas providers — and so it did not need to duplicate the same sort of foreign policy entanglements that Washington had long been involved in.
Now, so the Obama administration has concluded, the tables are beginning to turn. As a result of China’s booming economy and the emergence of a sizeable and growing middle class (many of whom have already bought their first cars), the country’s oil consumption is exploding. Running at about 7.8 million barrels per day in 2008, it will, according to recent projections by the U.S. Department of Energy, reach 13.6 million barrels in 2020, and 16.9 million in 2035. Domestic oil production, on the other hand, is expected to grow from 4.0 million barrels per day in 2008 to 5.3 million in 2035. Not surprisingly, then, Chinese imports are expected to skyrocket from 3.8 million barrels per day in 2008 to a projected 11.6 million in 2035 — at which time they will exceed those of the United States.