Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsAside from the dependence on imports from the Middle East, interference with the sea-lanes of communication is often mentioned as a potential vulnerability of East Asian oil supply. A number of oil tankers navigate the waters of the Indian Ocean, through the straits of Malacca and the South China Sea for ports in Pusan, Yokohama and Shanghai. While China claims 80% of the South China Sea as territorial water, 70 percent of Japan’s oil supplies pass that way. Therefore, as Chinese imports steadily rise, defending the fragile sea-lanes to the far-off Persian Gulf becomes a new security imperative for the PLA Navy. Particularly, the Malacca Strait is the Achilles heel of oil supply to East Asia and the Pacific.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsIf the Strait had to be closed for any reason, ships would be diverted to a much longer route, dramatically increasing transport costs. Because the Asia Pacific region is so fragmented geographically and oil resources are distributed so unevenly across the region, the potential for transporting oil by pipeline is extremely limited. The ability to diversify supply sources as well as transport routes is vitally important to China, Japan, India, and South Korea. The attraction for the major energy importers of Asia of diversifying imports away from the Persian Gulf and toward overland pipeline supplies is irresistible. Efforts are also being made to diversify energy consumption away from oil and toward natural gas.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 secondsOn balance, Asia’s powers are showing a marked inclination toward a relatively narrow, zero-sum, mercantilist approach to energy security that has the potential to be a major source of future tension and conflict in the region. The key Asian powers increasingly compete in the same producing areas and countries, and examples of state owned or sponsored Asian oil companies going head-to-head to control the same large fields and supplies are growing daily. Moreover, Asian governments are largely choosing bilateral approaches that link energy, trade, strategic, and often military cooperation rather than multilateral, regional, and market approaches to linking energy and security interests.

Sea lanes of communications

Most of Asian energy consumption depends on the Middle East region and certain marine transport routes linking Asia and the Middle East.

Such existing marine routes have traditional security problems like naval build-up among countries and non-traditional security problems like pirates and traffic congestion.

About 80 percent of energy import in China comes from the Middle East and Africa. Energy transport ships pass a narrow marine route between Malaysia and Indonesia, the Strait of Malacca.

The future of energy security of China depends on how it can make such concentrated energy transport routes more diversified. China is creating conflicts with Vietnam and Philippines over naval build-up and territorial issues in the South and East China Seas in order to address the problem.

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This video is from the free online course:

Global Resource Politics: the Past, Present and Future of Oil, Gas and Shale

Hanyang University