What's at Stake for Whom

At a Glance:

Map of China
CIA map

With more than 1.2 billion people, China is the world's most populous nation. It is also the world's largest producer of coal. In recent years, the Chinese government has admitted that its reliance on coal has contributed to an environmental and public health crisis. Lung disease is the leading cause of death in China. In an effort to wean itself from coal, China has begun relying more on oil and natural gas. In 1993, it became a net importer of oil, and currently imports one-quarter of the oil it consumes. Over the past year, the Chinese government has embarked on a five-year plan to improve its natural gas infrastructure and import greater volumes of natural gas.

In 1997, The Chinese National Pipeline Consortium bought a 60 percent stake in a Kazakh oil company, Aktobemunaigaz, which is working on developing onshore oil deposits in western Kazakhstan. China considered building a pipeline linking this field with its oil pipeline network, but in late 1999 concluded that it was not feasible. A 1998 feasibility study submitted by ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi, and the Chinese national oil company, found that a gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan's gas fields with China, and eventually Japan, would be too costly. Regine A. Specter, an energy expert with the Brookings Institution, says that China's interest in Central Asia has dimmed over the past few years for other reasons as well. "[China] has encountered significant obstacles in its investments in Kazakhstan, including investment losses, overwhelming bureaucracy, high taxes, and preferential treatment for western companies," Specter says.

China has been concerned about the security of its western Xinjiang province, which is inhabited largely by Turkic Muslim Uighurs. China's Xinjiang policy is defined by the 1996 Central Committee Document (No. 7), which identifies the Xinjiang nationalist movement as a significant security threat to the entire nation. To meet this threat, China has executed Uighur nationalists, encouraged Han Chinese to move to Xinjiang, and—since the late 1980s—sought to expand the flow of trade, oil, and gas through the area.

Population: 1,273,111,290 (July 2001 est.)
Total Energy Output: 1,276.595 million tons of coal equivalent
Percent Exported: 5.1
Total Energy Consumption: 1,225.474 million tons of coal equivalent
Percent Imported: 4.9
Consumption per Head: 1,012 kg coal equivalent

Sources: U.S. Dept. of Energy; CIA World Factbook; Center for Strategic Studies; Economist Intelligence Unit; East-West Institute; Brookings Institution; Renmin Ribao (Communist Party daily), Beijing.