Accessibility links

US and China: Partners or Competitors for World's Oil?

A prominent U.S. Senator is adding his voice to calls for the United States and China to work together on energy issues, instead of competing for oil.

The United States and China are the world's number one and number two consumers of oil.

In a speech Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations, Senator Joe Lieberman said this is why he is worried about a possible global competition for oil.

He said China has already taken several steps to secure a steady supply of oil. "China is entering military basing agreements with countries along its oil supply routes from the Middle East, and is building a very substantial blue water navy. We tend to see this as a reaction to Taiwan and potential conflict in the Taiwan Straits. But I want to suggest that an equally significant motivation, I would guess for the Chinese, is to develop this blue water navy to be in a position to defend oil supply routes, because if the oil doesn't get to the mainland, the economy will suffer dramatically," he said.

He said other indications of what he termed China's "aggressive" and "nationalistic" international energy policy is also evident in its relations with other countries. "China has energy energy contracts with both Iran and Sudan, that not only would we not consider because of our values, but make China an ally of nations that are openly hostile to us. And China, as many of you know, has been negotiating oil contracts with nations in Latin America and Africa that are part of broader bilateral relations, often involving military-to-military contacts, and some of those nations are Nigeria, Venezuela and Peru," he said.

Although global competition for oil could be one of the biggest sources of friction between the United States and China in the future, Senator Lieberman pointed out that both countries are in a similar situation, and therefore, should work together. "Each of our energy systems depends on a form of energy, oil, that neither nation has naturally, in abundance," he said.

Specifically, he said both countries should develop cooperative international policies, and conduct joint research into alternative fuel sources and new technologies. "For instance, as we work to turn our idle croplands into fuels, why not share that knowledge and capability with the Chinese? And why not ask that they do the same with some of the steps they are beginning to take with energy diversity and independence? Let's also work with them on alternative automobile technologies, while we have a window of time, before millions and millions of additional Chinese drivers hit the roads with gas-guzzling, gas-only vehicles," he said.

Senator Lieberman called for these issues to be included in an expanded U.S.-China policy dialogue that both countries established last year. "The U.S.-China energy engagement I foresee could be, in one sense, the 21st century version of what arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union were in the last century," he said.

He added that this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently, before, as he said, the race for oil becomes as heated or as dangerous as the race for nuclear arms.