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China’s energy quest fuels America’s hegemonic insecurity – implications for smaller nations in Asia

Updated On: Mar 24, 2006

Washington appears to be keeping up the pressure on China as it prepares for the visit of Hu Jintao in April.

As America journeyed Down Under to attempt a trilateral containment strategy against China in the region, the Chinese makes a diagonal quest to negotiate new oil supply networks with Venezuela.

Over news of the Chinese defence budget hike early this month, China’s recent Latin American manoeuvre adds fuel to the current belief in the US camp that the former is enlarging its hegemonic footprint, and this time, encroaching upon America’s traditional sphere of influence.

Washington’s nerves are strummed enough to prompt Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon’s (who oversees Latin American affairs) visit to Beijing in April ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington later in the month.

While Mr Shannon downplays the situation by emphasising the need to understand the interests of both countries in Latin America and avoid ‘crossing of wires,’ he also stated that China’s economic drive “reflects the incredible growth in China’s economy and the recognition that as it goes out in search of commodities and energy…the potential for political influence follows.”

China’s quenching of its oil thirst in Venezuela’s wells is expected to upset the US oil market, which now absorbs two-thirds of Venezuela’s (as the world’s No. 5 oil exporter) exports, according to a report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.  

The race appears to be on for the two superpowers to draw new (or re-draw previous) alliance with different regions, different countries as they act to protect their respective interests.  US recent moves, however, bordered on an old Cold War mentality of containment

How should Asia respond to the recent US overtures in Asia and attempts to build a multilateral alliance to contain China?  Oxford academic, Evelyn Goh in her commentary “Boxing China the US way” expressed doubt that such containment strategy can be effective in a vastly changed way of the 21st Century.  Asia’s political arrangements, with overlapping memberships and proliferation of institutions – Dr Goh argues – are incompatible with a Nato-like lens that America relies upon to forge strategic divisions à la the Cold War.  Hence, she is inclined to believe that though recent moves by US had an overtone of containment, they are really more push by US and China for competitive processes of regionalization reflecting their competing claims to leadership in Asia. And such competition may in fact prove to be positive, particularly for the smaller countries in the region.

Smaller nations in the region should, in Dr Goh’s view, derive greater clarity of their bargaining power: that America and China’s leadership claims rely upon their consent. These nations can subsequently leverage upon their principles of openness and cooperation to “shape the process” of developing strategic and economic benefits for the region, and “persuade the great powers that regional leadership need not be exclusionary but could be cooperative.”

Sources:

‘Boxing’ China the US way (The Straits Times, March 23, 2006)

US to suss out China’s intent in Latin America (The Straits Times, March 23, 2006)