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Opinion ... ...
    China and Japan's oil rivalry unavoidable
Zhang Kexi
2004-07-13 06:13

Rivalry for energy, especially oil, between China and Japan on a global scale is unavoidable.

China, as a emerging oil consumer, is dramatically changing world oil demand. Many countries, especially Japan, feel gravely uneasy about China's burgeoning demands for crude.

Due to historical reasons and geopolitical considerations, competition rather than co-operation is increasingly becoming a characteristic of their relationship.

From a Japanese perspective, the emergence of a strong and prosperous China is not a pleasant thought.

Although Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has repeatedly said that a strong China is an opportunity instead of a threat, many Japanese politicians still view China's development as a danger and the biggest obstacle to Japan's aspiration for regional dominance.

Therefore, joining the United States to contain China naturally becomes a critical component of Japan's national strategy.

In the eyes of Japanese, oil is a lethal weapon that can be used to contain China, especially when taking into account the fact that China is one of the largest consumers and is heavily dependent on other countries and regions for crude.

Japan's blueprint for future Sino-Japanese relations illustrates that the two will compete rather than co-operate when it comes to energy.

At the end of 2002, under the direct leadership of Koizumi, a special team on foreign relations - a Japanese think-tank - proposed the nation's basic diplomatic strategy for the 21st century.

In the proposal, the ascendancy of China, the United States becoming a superpower and the integration of European countries were considered as epoch-making events.

The draftees also pointed out that discord and co-operation coexisted in the relationship between China and Japan, and that economics was one of the areas where problems existed.

As Japan has highlighted, there are differences between the interests of the nations.

Therefore, China should be psychologically prepared to cope with tension while boosting economic links with Japan.

Perhaps the biggest reason why China and Japan are competing over energy is because these big consumers are heavily dependent on other countries and regions for oil.

Currently, China's ever-increasing demand for oil and the role of one of the largest oil importers contributes to Japanese concern for its own supplies of crude.

For resource-poor Japan, increasingly tight international energy markets coupled with soaring oil prices because of increased consumption is a nightmare.

China and Japan are not complementary in the field of energy, as they have to compete for it.

Therefore, at least on the issue of energy, the national interests of China clash with Japan's, so the latter looks at China as a competitor. Inevitably, Japan will compete with China for oil around the globe.

China's future is viewed differently in Japan - some say its economic growth will continue and other suggest a collapse is not far away.

To ensure its own economic security, Japan would rather co-operate with Europe and the US, which both have huge oil stocks, rather than partner with China over energy. That automatically pits Japan against China.

In addition, Japan has coveted oil and gas resources in the East China Sea for a long time.

To fight with China for the resources in the area, Japan has unilaterally demarcated a controversial exclusive economic zone along the median line. Japan holds that the line is the two countries' coastlines, but it is in fact on the continental shelf of the Chinese side.

Considering the critical importance of energy to Japan, it is very unlikely that its stance will be softened, especially in the East China Sea.

It is likely that China will forever encounter Japan's global energy rivalry, just as the ongoing pipeline route dispute between China and Japan shows.

When it comes to the issue of energy, Japan's media have shown a remarkable insight into the fierce competition for oil between the pair.

In the Asahi Shimbun on July 7, Funabashi Yoichi, a famed Japanese political analyst, said that by working closely with Russia and the Middle East to secure it crude supplies, China had adopted the opposite approach to Japan's passive energy development attitude.

An era of real oil rivalry between Japan and China is just around the corner, he said.

(China Daily 07/13/2004 page6)