The tremendous increase in China’s appetite for energy, and the response to this by regional powers, is changing the dynamics of international politics. Over the past two decades, the growth in China’s demand for natural resources has been dramatic. Twenty years ago China was East Asia’s largest oil exporter; now it is the world’s second largest oil importer. According to various estimates, in the last two years the increase in China’s energy demand has made up anywhere from 20-40 percent of worldwide growth. China’s expanding portion of the worldwide demand for energy and other natural resources helps to explain China’s booming presence on the international stage. China’s share of worldwide aluminum, nickel, and iron ore consumption, which are now each approximately 20 percent, doubled from 1990 to 2000 and will probably double again by the decade’s end.
As China scours the globe for energy resources, it has become a new player in some important regions. It receives between 40 and 45 percent of its energy imports from the Middle East, 11 percent from Iran alone. More than 30 percent of its oil now comes from Africa. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have worked hard to secure and protect China’s far-flung investments. Through high-level diplomacy, economic aid, and military relations, Chinese leaders have increased Beijing’s influence in oil-producing states. As a latecomer to the world energy consumption game, Beijing has entered markets forbidden to Americans. Some of these relationships have strengthened the hand of dangerous regimes looking for an alternative to the United States: for example, China’s presence in Latin American resource markets has allowed Hugo Chavez to boast that no longer will the United States be the dominant consumer of Venezuelan oil; now, “[Venezuela is] free and place[s] this oil at the disposal of the great Chinese fatherland.” . . .