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Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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China’s Superpower Status At Risk As Energy Nightmare Intensifies

China has set its sights high - very high - in terms of economic development, aiming to become not just one of the world’s superpowers by 2049 (the 100 year anniversary of the People's Republic of China) but the leading superpower worldwide. With such lofty goals China has barreled full-speed ahead toward the future, and now it’s starting to look like the nation’s hasty growth is finally catching up with it. 

China’s superpower ambitions don’t seem like such a far-fetched idea, considering that China is already the second-largest economy in the world and growing all the time. But for China, this comes with a massive set of challenges.

“China faces a protracted and increasingly difficult struggle to secure energy and water supplies to feed its insatiable appetite. From having to sustain a population over four times that of America’s 330 million, China is already at a severe disadvantage against the world’s incumbent superpower,” reports digital media news site SupChina. “China has only a portion of the U.S.’s oil, gas, and water resources, and that gap in self-sufficiency is likely to widen further.”

As China’s economy expands, so too does its bottomless demand for economic inputs and primary materials. And judging from recent events, the country is already scrambling to meet energy and water demand at its current levels - which is especially concerning when you consider that these demands are set to skyrocket. Related: One Of The World’s Largest Oil Companies Just Ditched The Dollar

China relies heavily on international trade to feed its industries’ energy consumption, and the Trade War with the United States, the attack on Saudi Arabian oil and its subsequent sharp decline in production, and pushback on Chinese claims to oil and gas rights in the South China Sea have all been heavy blows to China in the past months. 

In another particularly unfortunate turn for China, a forecast report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in June reported that the country’s natural gas consumption is projected to grow at nearly double the rate of Beijing’s previous projections. “This came three months after the government of President Xí Jìnpíng took the gamble to impose a 25 percent tariff on liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from the United States starting June 1,” reports SupChina. While China was already feeling a major energy squeeze, their own decisions in the U.S. trade war have undoubtedly made an already bad situation worse.

China is currently the world’s fastest-growing importer of natural gas (not to mention the fastest-growing consumer of oil) and is the second biggest importer of liquefied natural gas in the world, following Japan.

LNG has seen a huge boom across Asia in recent years and has become a particularly vital source of energy in China. “Natural gas is seen as a bridge fuel between current worldwide use of much dirtier coal for power generation and industrial consumption, and renewable fuels, because it burns cleaner. It has seen massive growth in sales in recent years, particularly to Asian nations seeking to reduce their dependence on coal,” reports Reuters. Related: How Much Oil Is Up For Grabs In Syria?

China has made an effort to increase its own domestic oil and natural gas production and has even announced that it will soon ease restrictions for foreign investment in Chinese oil. As OilPrice reported in July, by the end of this year China will be “deregulating and restructuring key sectors of its industry, including oil exploration and mining, in order to facilitate greater foreign investment in China.” 

While China is doing its best to boost its own energy production, however, it may be too little too late. China’s demand for fuel is insatiable and simply cannot be met without the massive imports that China has already become completely dependent on and will continue to rely on as the economy grows.

With instability in the Middle East, poor diplomatic relations with the United States, and a faltering domestic oil and gas industry, China needs to solve its growing energy crisis in a hurry. Even without President Xi’s lofty “Chinese Dream” ambitions, China would need to secure more and more fuel just to support its growing population. When you factor in the nation’s superpower ambitions on top of that, China is facing a serious squeeze with no real solution in sight. In the meantime, China better make sure that its relationship with LNG-rich Russia doesn’t sour like so many of its other diplomatic ties. 

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on October 24 2019 said:
    This article is full of inaccuracies and deliberate mistakes. The first inaccuracy is that China is the world’s second largest economy. Actually, China is the world’s largest economy based on purchasing power parity (PPP) which both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) use as a reliable measuring stick to measure the economies of the world.

    Accordingly, China’s GDP in 2019 at $27.5 trillion is 28% bigger than the United States’ at $21.5 trillion and also far more integrated into the world trade system aided by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to which 133 countries around the world have already signed on thus receiving Chinese loans and investments to build their infrastructure and opening their markets to China in return. That is why China won the trade war with the United States.

    And while China has a huge and growing need to secure energy and water supplies to feed its insatiable appetite, it is offsetting any challenges by investing worldwide in energy resources from Africa, to Iraq, Venezuela, Russia and elsewhere and also in renewable energy. When you add China’s investments in energy resources around the world to it domestic resources, they amount to much bigger quantity than the United States’. Moreover, China has a strategic alliance with the superpower of energy, Russia, thus it can get all its needs of oil, natural gas and LNG from it. As a matter of fact, China is a major investor In Russia’s Novatec LNG and Arctic LNG 2 projects in the Arctic

    Furthermore, China’s water resources can be augmented significantly by thousands of solar-powered water desalination plants underpinned by the fact that China is the world’s largest investor in renewable energy particularly solar power.

    Instability in the Middle East affects both the United States and China. But remember that the United States still imports some 9-10 million barrels a day (mbd) of oil based on 21 mbd of consumption and a production of 11 mbd. In fact, it is the United States which will face a real squeeze with the continuous slowdown of US shale oil production. US shale oil production will be no more in 5-10 years.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • bob josephs on October 25 2019 said:
    Dr Salameh is a propagandist. US production is 12.2 million BPD so far in 2019. Net imports are 4 million BPD so far in 2019. The Trend is for continued growth in production and shrinking of imports. Last 4 weeks production 12.6 million BPD, net imports fell to 2.9 million BPD.
  • Matt O on October 26 2019 said:
    Those numbers are great. The real size of the Chinese economy is a state secret...china has a big economy. Not bigger then USA.
  • Phil Mirzoev on October 28 2019 said:
    Totally agree with Dr Mamdooh: it really doesn't seem that this article actually pursued the media and journalistic social and professional duty of objective reporting, analysis and view representation. On the one hand the author "omitted" absolutely critical aspects out of the context and coverage, and on the other hand it is obvious that the author does have the professional knowledge and information to know and understand those aspects and their criticality in avoiding misleading. The deception by omission is still perceived by many people as somewhat a lesser ethical breach than "conventional lies", but when it comes to the media as institution, the predictable deleterious outcome of such deception can be often much greater than in many cases of factual lies.
    Yes, China is a bigger economy than the US for this moment - it is a fact, and the media continues to mislead people around the world that it is "2-nd biggest". The recalculation of the monetary value of the economy through the nominal currency exchange rate is no closer to the right comparative estimation of GDP than using inches to compare the length of one street with the other one measured in meters. GDP can be estimated only on PPP basis within the relative context - comparison of the total volume of goods and services produce by an economy, period.
    The article practically mentions nothing of the "elephant in the room" - the unprecedented convergence of the trading interests and integration of resource policies between China and Russia, and the latter will have enough resources to feed two Chinas if need be.
    Some comments about "souring diplomatic ties" of China are really devoid of any relative context: indeed, it is hard to find such another country as the US who would have deteriorated so many ties and relations with so many countries in a matter of just several years, and China, by any measure, still continues to be on the upward trend in terms of forging more and more economic and political relations with more and more regions and countries in the world (actually, so many peope from the same media who like to depict China as a bogey man, like to point out that fact as a "dangerous sign of Chinese influence")
  • Charles Kao on October 29 2019 said:
    China energy supply is diversified with Russia, Iran, Syria, Saudi, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, .. And China is also building Nuclear power plants aggressively. Losing US LNG supply might, or might not be a big impact, at least for now, I think.

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