NEW DELHI – As Asia’s rising powers seek to sustain growth and ensure stability, energy security has moved to the forefront of Asian geopolitics. The recent visit by China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar was as much about ensuring energy security for China as it was about China playing a role in maintaining political stability in the Middle East.
The visit came against the backdrop of the growing threat of United States-led oil-export sanctions against Iran and China’s need to secure alternative sources of oil and gas. But its unstated purpose was to bolster China’s rising profile in the Persian Gulf and the Muslim world.
Having faced a pushback in East and Southeast Asia after the US enunciated a new strategic framework for the “Indo-Pacific” region, and given the growing profile of energy in the geopolitics of the South China Sea, the Chinese are moving to secure their western flank. Indeed, in the six years since Saudi King Abdullah’s visit to China in January 2006, China has emerged as the most important Asian power in the Gulf, establishing extensive business and strategic links.
At a conference on “Gulf and Asia,” organized by the Geo-Economics and Strategy Program of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bahrain last October, Yang Guang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences pointed out that China had overtaken the US as the biggest importer of oil from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.