China has set its sights high – very high – in terms of economic development, aiming to become not just one of the world’s superpowers by 2049 (the 100 year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China) but the leading superpower worldwide. With such lofty goals China has barreled full-speed ahead toward the future, and now it’s starting to look like the nation’s hasty growth is finally catching up with it.
China’s superpower ambitions don’t seem like such a far-fetched idea, considering that China is already the second-largest economy in the world and growing all the time. But for China, this comes with a massive set of challenges.
“China faces a protracted and increasingly difficult struggle to secure energy and water supplies to feed its insatiable appetite. From having to sustain a population over four times that of America’s 330 million, China is already at a severe disadvantage against the world’s incumbent superpower,” reports digital media news site SupChina. “China has only a portion of the U.S.’s oil, gas, and water resources, and that gap in self-sufficiency is likely to widen further.”
As China’s economy expands, so too does its bottomless demand for economic inputs and primary materials. And judging from recent events, the country is already scrambling to meet energy and water demand at its current levels – which is especially concerning when you consider that these demands are set to skyrocket.
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China relies heavily on international trade to feed its industries’ energy consumption, and the Trade War with the United States, the attack on Saudi Arabian oil and its subsequent sharp decline in production, and pushback on Chinese claims to oil and gas rights in the South China Sea have all been heavy blows to China in the past months.
In another particularly unfortunate turn for China, a forecast report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in June reported that the country’s natural gas consumption is projected to grow at nearly double the rate of Beijing’s previous projections. “This came three months after the government of President Xí Jìnpíng took the gamble to impose a 25 percent tariff on liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from the United States starting June 1,” reports SupChina. While China was already feeling a major energy squeeze, their own decisions in the U.S. trade war have undoubtedly made an already bad situation worse.
China is currently the world’s fastest-growing importer of natural gas (not to mention the fastest-growing consumer of oil) and is the second biggest importer of liquefied natural gas in the world, following Japan.
LNG has seen a huge boom across Asia in recent years and has become a particularly vital source of energy in China. “Natural gas is seen as a bridge fuel between current worldwide use of much dirtier coal for power generation and industrial consumption, and renewable fuels, because it burns cleaner. It has seen massive growth in sales in recent years, particularly to Asian nations seeking to reduce their dependence on coal,” reports Reuters.
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China has made an effort to increase its own domestic oil and natural gas production and has even announced that it will soon ease restrictions for foreign investment in Chinese oil. As OilPrice reported in July, by the end of this year China will be “deregulating and restructuring key sectors of its industry, including oil exploration and mining, in order to facilitate greater foreign investment in China.”
While China is doing its best to boost its own energy production, however, it may be too little too late. China’s demand for fuel is insatiable and simply cannot be met without the massive imports that China has already become completely dependent on and will continue to rely on as the economy grows.
With instability in the Middle East, poor diplomatic relations with the United States, and a faltering domestic oil and gas industry, China needs to solve its growing energy crisis in a hurry. Even without President Xi’s lofty “Chinese Dream” ambitions, China would need to secure more and more fuel just to support its growing population. When you factor in the nation’s superpower ambitions on top of that, China is facing a serious squeeze with no real solution in sight. In the meantime, China better make sure that its relationship with LNG-rich Russia doesn’t sour like so many of its other diplomatic ties.