- China and ASEAN: Energy Security, Cooperation and Competition by Hong Zhao
The author’s primary motivation for writing China and ASEAN: Energy Security, Cooperation and Competition is the “rapid rise of China and its consequent influence in the world, particularly in Southeast Asia” (p. 1). China is the main force behind the geopolitical and economic reconfiguration that is taking place in Southeast Asia. The 600 million people in the region live in the ten member nations of [End Page 237] the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Zhao Hong, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute (EAI), explains that China is rapidly becoming a new center of gravity that is affecting the world’s energy map, especially in the ASEAN region. Upon this core theme, Zhao analyzes the factors that link China and ASEAN cooperatively and competitively in a number of areas that involve energy security. In seven chapters, the author introduces the China-ASEAN energy connection, the importance of energy security to Southeast Asia’s growth, China’s energy quest within the region, case studies of Myanmar and Indonesia, and an analysis of energy resource competition within the context of the South China Sea dispute.
The most interesting and innovative part of the book is Zhao’s concept of the New Global Energy Order and the debates surrounding the issue. A fundamental debate is over whether elements of the new order will lead to cooperation or competition and, if the latter, whether the result will be disputes and conflicts, some of which might be dangerous. Much will depend on China and its quest for energy and other material resources. Not only in China and ASEAN but elsewhere quests will be driven by economic growth and the energy demand that it creates as populations grow, export sectors boom, and transportation sectors expand. Zhao notes that on the energy supply side much will depend on whether the level and composition of new energy resources, mainly oil and natural gas, will match the structure of future demand.
Zhao expands on this point since energy resource competition throughout Asia is becoming more acute, not [End Page 238] only in the South China Sea but beyond where energy-driven growth is taking place. The result is that “rising oil and gas imports are trending across Asia, in particular as China surpasses the United States to become the world’s largest importer and ASEAN as a whole changes from energy resource exporter to energy importer” (p. 9). The author describes and analyzes the development of this new energy resource global order and he concludes that the struggle for oil and gas resource access is at its core and the struggle to which it leads is testing the capacity of leaders to engender energy cooperation among China and some ASEAN countries. For example, as part of their diplomatically based cooperative efforts, Chinese officials have recently visited Myanmar, the Philippines, and the Indonesia in order to establish new energy resource supply sources. This case highlights the dichotomy between cooperation and competition. While trying to cooperate with Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia on resource access grounds, China is actively engaging in competitive geopolitical claims to Spratly Island located in the center of the South China Sea, a claim challenged and disputed by the Philippines, Indonesia, and three other ASEAN countries.
Zhao’s focus on energy security as a factor in the South China Sea dispute is crucial. He notes that China’s search for energy resources in Southeast Asia can help deepen China-ASEAN relations in cooperative terms. At the same time, however, it could also be a catalyst for conflict since “rising energy prices, fears of supply scarcity, and rapid increase in oil-import dependence in China and ASEAN countries have helped drive resource competition” (p. 168). He stresses that the danger is that competition between China and some ASEAN countries (as well as the United States) could destabilize the region. [End Page 239] Policy leaders know this and they also realize that not only must conflict be avoided but...