Beijing said recently it wanted to increase the amount of oil it gets from Russia through a major oil pipeline running to the Pacific Ocean. Beijing, however, would likely have to fend off other Asian economies, as well as the United States, in order to get that extra crude. With the Pentagon talking about shifting its pressure points to the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing's growing energy appetite highlights the broader geopolitical realignment toward the East.
The United States and China together sit on top of the international economic hierarchy. The U.S. economy, starting late last year, began showing signs it was taking its first hesitant steps out of economic recession. At the same time, some analysts began to wonder if the Chinese economy was finally evening out. Perhaps this shows the field is leveling, but when two dominant units compete in the same system, a clash of some sort is inevitable.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Beijing recently for trade talks after Washington slapped down the initial permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Harper's government said it would look to Asian markets if Washington couldn't make up its mind about Canadian crude oil. Beijing, meanwhile, is busy courting Moscow in an effort to get all of the oil Russia can manage to ship through the Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline. Beijing would have to muscle Japan, South Korea and the United States out of the way to do so, but in some ways, it already has.
Weaker states align with one another to offset the stronger units in the geopolitical system, but in the current hierarchy, it's not exactly clear where dominance lies. Russia's Gazprom had said it would look to Asian markets and even London said it might start looking east. This week, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was wrapping up his trade visit to the United States while the White House was busy complaining about unfair advantages in foreign markets. This suggests there is, in fact, a shift in poles.
Survival in the international system depends on a nation's ability to gain access to key resources that ensure durability. With its economy churning along, China needs oil and other key resources to at least maintain a healthy cadence. U.S. military officials had expressed concern about the "pace and scope" of Beijing's military trajectory, but the survival of a great military power like the United States won't be threatened directly by China anytime soon. Oil interests, however, are a good indicator of geopolitical position. The United States isn't going anywhere but if oil is any barometer of power, its interest may be in jeopardy because of Chinese ascendancy.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com