China's search for energy security has attracted growing research interest over the past decade, where the main focus has been on both China's ability to meet its daunting oil requirements and the effects that its consumption and quest for oil abroad has on global energy security. This article attempts to explain China's state-led approach to energy security and evaluate its effectiveness. In doing so, it provides a counter-argument to the conventional scholarly view that China suffers from a dearth of oil state capacity. This prevailing view is informed by an influential, yet arguably outdated, model of the Chinese policy process called fragmented authoritarianism (FA). An alternative model, known as bureaucratic authoritarianism (BA), is shown to provide a more compelling explanation of the interplay of elite and bureaucratic power within the oil sector. It acknowledges that the central Party-state is defined by a steep power gradient, which has been strengthened in recent years, especially in the strategic sectors of the Chinese economy (oil sector is at the forefront). A more optimistic appraisal of China's oil state capacity that traces institutional change throughout the reform era, it shows that capacity has improved over time, as is reflected in better policy outcomes.