THE GREAT OIL AND GAS ROAD: FIRST RESULTS AND PROSPECTS
Sergey Zhiltsov, D.Sc. (Political Science), Head of the Department of Political Science and Political Philosophy of the Diplomatic Academy, Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Moscow, Russian Federation)
The geopolitical changes associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the newly independent states in its territory have led to the appearance of a large number of new pipeline projects. Some of the new projects concerned the delivery of oil and gas in the European (westerly) direction, while others were aimed at creating infrastructure for exporting hydrocarbon resources in the easterly direction—from the Central Asian countries to China.
In the 1990s, China began implementing a new energy policy. It was oriented toward gaining direct access to the hydrocarbon resources of the Central Asian countries and creating reliable routes for exporting oil and gas to China. Diligent and persevering implementation of this policy ultimately made it possible for Beijing to build a new pipeline infrastructure in Central Asia oriented toward meeting China’s hydrocarbon resource requirements. So it is legitimate to say that a Great Oil and Gas Road is being formed that relies on the historical heritage of the Great Silk Road and articulates the political and economic changes occurring in China’s policy toward the Central Asian countries.
It stands to reason that we need to tread carefully when drawing such historical parallels. Relations among the countries differ, new forms of transport have been created, and fundamentally new technological achievements have been reached. Appealing to the historical heritage of the Great Silk Road has activated interstate contacts and the need to expand economic trade cooperation. And whereas “silk road” was commonly used as a general term for describing the large number of caravan trade routes with a few major branches that linked China with Asia and Europe, the current pipeline architecture serves as a new set of regional relations. In contrast to the Great Silk Road, which covered an enormous territory, the Oil and Gas Road has geographic boundaries confined by the east coast of the Caspian Sea.
It is very interesting to trace the stages China has passed through in its effort to establish a Great Oil and Gas Road, as well as study the approaches to its formation. Despite political and financial difficulties and the active policy of non-regional states in Central Asia, China has succeeded in forming new energy flows by incorporating the regional countries into the orbit of its geopolitical influence.
China’s creation of new export routes, to which the concept “Great Oil and Gas Road” can be suitably applied today, went through several stages, each of which developed under the influence of different factors. These are primarily the unstable geopolitical situation, the constantly changing data about hydrocarbon reserves, the demand for hydrocarbon resources, and the price of oil and gas in the world markets, as well as the technological possibilities allowing to develop new hard-to-access deposits. Nevertheless, in contrast to the large-scale European pipeline projects, many of which have not emerged from the discussion stage, the Great Oil and Gas Road has been translated into action. Moreover, China is continuing to pursue a policy aimed at increasing its presence in the energy sector of the regional countries and at initiating new large-scale pipeline projects.
Keywords: China, Great Oil and Gas Road, Great Silk Road, Central Asia, hydrocarbon resources, pipelines.