With its energy needs steadily growing, Northeast Asia will require ever-accelerating petroleum imports for its economic expansion and survival. Most of these imports will come from the same sources—the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia—where the United States and Western Europe get much of their petroleum. Yet there are enormous untapped oil and gas resources in nearby Russia and in contested areas of the East China Sea and Yellow Sea seabed that could, if exploited, reduce Northeast Asian dependence on costly imports from politically turbulent faraway sources.

Projected oil and gas pipelines that would link Russian gas fields in eastern Siberia and Sakhalin Island to China, Japan and the two Koreas would not only have a profound political impact, drawing the region together, but would also help to stabilize the region economically. A pipeline from Sakhalin through North Korea to South Korea could also prove important in security terms. Support for such a pipeline could give the United States the decisive economic leverage necessary to induce North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program and to accept an adequate inspection regime, provided that this economic leverage is accompanied by security assurances, such as the non-aggression agreement proposed by Pyongyang.

After assessing the prospects for gas pipelines, this study will examine the high economic and political stakes involved in the quiet struggle now unfolding in Northeast Asia over seabed petroleum resources, especially the conflict between China and Japan over the East China Sea