The five-way contest for oil sources in Asia and Africa

Mar 19, 2007 01:00 AM

by Eric S. Margolis

The quest for energy security has become the primary and most immediate strategic concern of Asia’s two rising giants, India and China. The Middle East will soon feel the full force of this growing competition.
China’s and India’s blazing 9 % plus economic growth rate has pushed them well beyond their original estimates of energy needs, and is even causing tightening supplies in certain sectors. As a result, alarm bells are ringing in Delhi and Beijing and an urgent, often unseemly scramble for new sources of oil is under way.

Last autumn, I attended the Chinese-African summit in Beijing, the culmination of a masterful campaign by China to lock up a large chunk Africa’s energy and mineral resources. China, which efficiently integrated its energy and military policies, used financial and military aid, and a lot of flattering personal diplomacy, to secure oil concessions in Africa and Asia.
Indian officials in Delhi and the business community in Mumbai are deeply worried China may soon have secured all available remaining oil supplies not already controlled by the United States. They are clamouring for action to secure energy supplies for India to assure its continued economic growth and expanding military power.

India’s modest domestic oil production has been waning, forcing it to import 70 % of its oil. India’s imports account for 3.2 % of world oil imports; China’s 7.6 %; the US 25 %; and Europe 26 %.
India, quite clearly, is being left way behind in the stampede to secure energy supplies. Its oil imports will need to double by 2030 from the current 2.4 mm barrels daily to sustain growth. By that year, China’s imports will also double and reach 12 mm barrels daily. Since most of this oil will originate from the Gulf or Indonesia, both Asian superpowers are rushing to deploy deep water naval forces to protect their oil lifelines, just as the US has done since World War II.

China is building a fleet of modern attack submarines, some of them nuclear-powered,adding missile-armed surface combatants, and extending the range of its land-based naval aviation. The People’s Navy has gone from being a weak “brown water” coastal force to a true “blue-water” navy that could even challenge the US 7th Fleet in a clash over Taiwan.
But China is unable to project naval power westward through the Strait of Malacca into the vast Indian Ocean and to the Gulf due to its lack of bases and air cover. Here, India holds a major advantage.

India’s modern aircraft carrier, long-ranged shore-based aviation, and modern, Russian-supplied attack submarines and frigates armed with deadly cruise missiles will give India maritime dominance over the entire Indian Ocean from the coast of East Africa to Australia. Only the US Navy could challenge India’s sway over the Indian Ocean.
But China’s securing of port rights in Burma, warm relations with East African states, and expanding influence in energy-rich Central Asia, worries India. At the same time, India’s surging naval power has deeply alarmed Pakistan, whose oil lifeline through the port of Karachi could be quickly severed by an Indian naval blockade.

Having come late to the Monopoly-like game of grabbing as many key oil properties as possible, India is now racing to make up for lost time. Being a democracy prone to debilitating party politics and infighting, India cannot operate with the ruthless strategic efficiency and speed as Communist China, but it knows time is running short.
What this means is that some time soon, India’s strategic energy and political interests are going to start actively competing, if not openly colliding, in the Middle East with those of the region’s hegemony, the United States.

India’s surging economy and military will need access to Arab and Iranian oil which, after all, is almost next door. The disaster wrought on US-Middle East interests by the Bush Administration’s self-destructive policies will open the region to the growing influence of both India and China, not to mention a resurgent Russia. To no surprise, some of India’s recent naval improvements, notably its development of powerful anti-ship missiles, appear aimed at the only other navy with large surface combatants in the Indian Ocean -- the US Navy.
The five-way contest between the US, India, Japan, Europe and China for Asia and Africa’s energy resources promises to be fascinating. Welcome to the new Great Game.

Source: Gulf Times Newspaper
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