When China faces complex strategic problems, the same dichotomy always emerges: the problem is serious, as is the attempt to resolve it. This double analysis can be applied to environmental protection, the quality of development, and energy supplies. The latter is one of China’s most crucial problems. Relying on its resources is impossible: a strong commitment to its needs is therefore necessary. Two enormous aspects can also be tied to energy: economic development and foreign politics. China seems to have favored the first aspect compared to the second; or, at least, foreign politics became a subordinate instrument to further the primary goal of growing the GDP. In any case, there is a moment when certain global choices become mandatory and must dominate the reasons for growth. This is the reason behind China’s intervention in the Middle East. A blatant difference is notable between the complexity of the situation and the relative simplicity of China’s stance. The first reveals the volatility of the region, and the second a detached intervention whose goal it is to guarantee energy supplies. China has purchased oil, has defended its supplies, and is committed to positions at the edge of superficiality. Officially, it supports the Palestinian cause, but it has fostered technological and military ties with Israel for years. It stays away from conflicts that enflame the region because it has no intention of getting dragged into unfamiliar and undesirable problems. In essence, it leaves the dirty job to the United States provided that it doesn’t harm its interests.
Currently, the situation is evolving, and has probably mutated radically. The tragic current events in the Middle East testify to this. At the continent’s other extreme, China’s needs are not declining. According to a study by the International Energy Agency, China will need to import more than 11 million barrels of oil per day in 2030. This is a staggering number, higher than the current record of 8 million. China continues to be an energy-consuming force and needs to find commensurate sources. Reducing consumption doesn’t seem feasible. The World’s Factory needs energy, and the population has abandoned the frugal living standards of the past. Even the discovery of new reserves within its territory seems improbable; additionally, a leap forward in efficient technologies or the development of alternative energy solutions is hard to imagine.
There’s no solution left but oil. But strong ties with Africa (principally Angola) and Latin America (Venezuela) are insufficient. Analysts confirm that the greatest growth margins will come from Iraq. Taking advantage of them means getting involved in a tumultuous region, however. It will not be an easy task for Beijing, accustomed to treating foreign relations in a residual manner for some time. A power of its dimensions needs to make its weight felt, contribute to stability, and even work with the US on intelligence and security operations. The old mantra of “non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs” is no longer sufficient. At least in its declarations, China is not invoking a second imperialism after Washington’s, but it’s right to keep in mind that distancing itself won’t work anymore; it’s not long-sighted, and most importantly, it doesn’t lead to valid results, not even for China.