China's peaceful development is conditioned on guaranteed supply of energy resources, oil and natural gas in particular, which are vitally important factors in world politics and economics. As a result, meeting the country's energy demand constitutes an important part of the Chinese diplomacy, which is essentially peaceful political activity.
It follows that China's energy diplomacy applies peaceful means to promote domestic development. The Chinese energy diplomacy is currently in full swing. Energy security has become the most important component in the country's national security.
China is a large energy consumer as well as a large energy producer, taking into account that the country has become one of the biggest petrol and gas importing countries in the world. Its energy diplomacy, therefore, focuses on the international supply of oil and natural gas.
The country's dependence on energy imports is expected to increase in the future. China surpassed Japan and became the world's second-largest oil consumer after the United States in 2002, when its annual oil demand hit 250 million tons. The country's oil imports have been rising ever since 1993 when China became a net oil importer.
The world oil and gas economics has ever remained highly globalized. In view of this, resolving the question of short supplies of oil and gas, a headache for all big economic players, including China, must rely on global energy exploitation.
The process of tapping the world's energy resources is also one in which the Chinese economy gets increasingly involved in globalization. We may as well dub this process a second globalization of the Chinese economy.
The first time the Chinese economy got involved globally happened over the past two decades when large amounts of foreign capital entered China, helping make the country "the world's processing plant" and a world-class trade power.
This time, however, China will establish and promote relations based on energy demand and supply with major countries and regions, consolidating the strategic division of work between China and the rest of the world.
Chinese diplomacy will undergo profound transformation on the course in view that international energy issue involves almost all world powers and geopolitically important nations and regions. In terms of oil and gas supply, China's energy diplomacy needs to clearly define the key countries and regions and, in turn, optimize relations with them.
The Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, Africa, Australia and South America are likely the countries and regions that would form energy-based strategic relationships with China, or, in other words, relationships characterized by the interaction between oil and gas suppliers and consumers.
It is generally admitted that China has to pursue the pluralist energy strategy, which means the country should acquire its energy supplies from various countries and regions across the world, instead of relying exclusively on a specific country or region. In this way, the country will be able to hedge the risks, those involving international politics and security in particular.
This is aimed not only at freeing the country from being led by the nose by others where oil and gas supply is concerned but also at buttering its bread on both sides.
So, Chinese diplomacy enjoys space to manoeuver. Establishing and developing a new type of partnership or strategic partnership with the majority of the world countries will facilitate pluralizing of the country's energy supply sources.
As a matter of fact, China is now enjoying good diplomatic ties with major countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and South America.
On this basis, China is having in-depth negotiations with a number of countries such as Russia and pushing forward cooperation in order to bring about stable bilateral energy relations.
The country is also doing her best to promote peace in the Middle East in a bid to secure the Middle East oil supply sources, among other considerations.
At the same time, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the good bilateral relations between China and some Central Asian countries are instrumental in expanding China's energy co-operation with this region.
Meanwhile, the country's energy cooperation with African nations helps open up a new perspective in Sino-African relations, which have ever been good over long time. Also, energy cooperation with Southeast Asia and Australia is going smoothly.
In view of all this, China's worldwide energy diplomacy is taking shape, helping the country further establish itself in the international system of division of work.
Good Sino-US ties are key factors in China's energy diplomacy. On the one hand, China's energy strategy and diplomacy are bound to compete one way or another with the United States' interests. Possibilities of interest clashes are not ruled out.
On the other hand, however, China and the United States share extensive interests and have much room for cooperation in this regard, apart from competition.
Stability of the world energy market is in the interests of both countries. They can manage to bring competition under control and clearly define their common interests and expand bilateral cooperation such as in the field of nuclear energy through dialogue and mutual understanding.
Highly complex geopolitical factors are involved in the energy issue. We should get prepared for the use of energy weapon by some big powers against China. Some countries' attempt to block China's development with regard to energy resources must be thwarted. The best way is effective bilateral or multi-lateral cooperation. China-India, China-Saudi Arabia and China-Africa energy cooperation, for example, is of great strategic significance.
Now that China is a rising player on the world energy market, it is quite understandable that many countries are concerned about China's huge energy demand and the directions in which its international cooperation and diplomacy will be going. But it should, however, be borne in mind that China will not be driven by traditional power-politics mentality in pursuing its energy diplomacy. Instead, the country will turn to extensive international cooperation.
Cut-throat rivalry for gaining energy resources helps little and nobody emerges victorious from it. Moreover, it is extremely dangerous politically and strategically. China could not know that better.
The author is the director of the Institute for Global Studies affiliated to Nankai University.
(China Daily February 7, 2006)