Getting under the skin of China's energy policies
China, Oil and Global Politics by Philip Andrews-Speed and Roland Dannreuther, Routledge, 2011, 231 pp. (ISBN 978-0-415-60395-9)
If China’s foreign policy on energy is of concern to you, then Philip Andrews-Speed and Ronald Danreuther’s new book is indispensable. In 170 tightly written pages the authors synthesise their deep knowledge of Chinese domestic policymaking with a broad and sophisticated understanding of international relations. The result is a complex argument about how domestic and international considerations have interacted to shape the international behaviour of the Chinese government and of its oil companies. In contrast to most foreign policy discussions, the authors emphasize the importance of domestic policy considerations and path dependency in the energy sector in determining much of China’s international behaviour.
They don’t offer any simple one-size-fits-all explanations, nor do they group the Chinese central government and the various energy companies into a simple China Inc. They instead explain the interactions and between them and show how these have changed over time as well as varying around the world. They analyse separately China’s energy relationships with the U.S., Russia, Asia, Africa and Latin America, building a complex story of multiple motivations and varying success. Their discussions of the U.S. and Russia are particularly strong, and they challenge conventional wisdom. They present a complex story of co-operation and competition with major powers and of success and failure in seeking new markets. They address China’s willingness to invest in pariah states, and place it in both in the context of China’s latecomer status in the oil market and its approach to the UN Security Council.
The book’s greatest strengths are also its limitations. The authors bring a deep historical perspective, yet that somewhat detracts from fully reflecting the pace of change in Chinese energy policy, particularly in the past five years. New approaches to energy efficiency and environmental protection are given less attention than I think is warranted. The intensive focus on oil gives short shrift to other factors in energy policy. These include non-supply side motivations like environmental protection, non-fossil fuel source diversification as well as non-oil motivations in international policy. While oil is obviously important, the authors do not consider how important coal policy considerations are in negotiations under the climate change convention. They are excellent on how non-energy goals such as sovereignty interact with energy policy, but don’t generally consider other energy-related goals, including technology transfer, in international negotiations.