The Wilson Center's China Environment Forum and Canada Institute hosted a panel discussion on China's energy needs and the implications for North American policymaking. This program was part of the China Environment Forum's series on The Global Impact of China's Oil Hunger.

Xavier Xinhua Chen, Vice-President for Energy Market and Strategy, BP China
Wenran Jiang, Acting Director, China Institute and Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Alberta
Jeff Logan, Senior Associate, Climate and Energy, World Resources Institute

The China Environment Forum and Canada Institute cosponsored a panel discussion on the growing tensions in North America regarding China's expanding search for oil resources. China's requirements for imported energy have grown significantly in recent years. The panelists addressed the underlying dynamics underpinning China's hunger for energy imports as well as the strategy the Chinese government is pursuing to ensure energy bottlenecks do not threaten economic growth. Xavier Chen explained that with China's sustained GDP growth (57% since 2000), energy consumption has increased almost 100% and Chinese oil demand growth has averaged over 7% annually since 2000. This booming demand has produced growing energy shortages throughout the country, which has led the government to focus on energy diversification and development. Besides investments in new infrastructure and a renewed focus on nuclear, renewables, and natural gas, the government has increased oil imports and encouraged its national oil companies to expand exploration around the globe.

Wenran Jiang discussed Canada's openness to Chinese investment and its potential as a source of oil exports to Asian markets in the long run, but remarked that Canada's energy industry remains geared to the U.S. market given the proximity, access, cost, and refining capacity at hand. Jeff Logan explained the dynamics underpinning U.S. concerns over China's impact on the global oil markets. Logan stressed, however, that both the U.S. and Chinese economies are intertwined to such an extent that their respective dependence on oil—the two countries account for one third of global oil consumption—requires collaboration on the part of both governments to assuage each country's concerns over energy security.

The greatest challenge is to overcome the gap in perceptions between the United States and China. There was a general consensus that a number of opportunities for collaboration existed between China and North America, but Jeff Logan argued it was up to the United States to take the first step and demonstrate its "credibility" in tackling global energy challenges. Indeed, since the United States still consumes three times as much as China, Logan argued that the United States should take the first to "demonstrate its commitment" to lessen its dependence on oil.

All three speakers also emphasized that opportunities exist for diffusing tensions over China's energy demands, both through assistance in energy efficiency and involving China in multilateral institutions, such as the International Energy Agency.

David N. Biette, Director, Canada Institute, (202) 691-4133
Jennifer Turner, Director, China Environment Forum, (202) 691-4233