[OUTLOOK]Energy needs regional tiesPresident Roh Moo-hyun visited Russia and declared, together with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the relationship between Korea and Russia to be “a mutually trustful and comprehensive partnership.” The two leaders also announced a 10-point joint declaration. The contents of the declaration were diverse, but the ones that caught our attention were those on cooperation between the two countries on development of energy and eastern Siberia.
As is known already, Korea, China and Japan, all in Northeast Asia, rank 10th, fourth and second in the world respectively in energy consumption. Japan and Korea depend totally on imports for fossil energy such as oil, natural gas and coal, while China can make ends meet with coal as long as it does not mind the low quality.
Meanwhile, Russia is emerging as the new source of energy for the three Northeast Asian countries. Russia only supplied energy to European countries in the old days of the Soviet Union, but ever since the end of the Cold War, Russia has substantially risen as a strong player in Northeast Asia using the undeveloped energy resources in the Russian Far East and eastern Siberia. There is a significant meaning in President Roh’s trip to Russia and the discussions with President Putin on issues related to our energy security. That will provide long-term growth potential for our economy.
In Northeast Asia, three major energy consuming countries ― Korea, China and Japan ― and Russia, which is full of natural resources, are geographically close, so mutual understanding and agreement concerning international energy cooperation is possible. Therefore, the presidential visit has provided momentum for speedy regional cooperation, because we can set up a plan and supporting policy for a Northeast Asian era.
But the three countries of Northeast Asia are currently asking for resources competitively with a “zero-sum” game attitude, and Russia is dividing the demands of the three countries to its advantage.
The battle of rivalry between China and Japan for the past few years concerning the development of natural gas and oil in eastern Siberia, and the development of pipelines, Russia weighing its own interests and Korea attempting to get in through the cracks are all part of an “energy war” to secure international energy resources in Northeast Asia.
But if the policies of the three countries continue to flow this way without being tuned properly, the competition for energy resources in Northeast Asia and the monopolistic superiority strategy of Russia will not be good for Korea, China, Japan ― or Russia in the long-term.
Extreme competition under the single supplier, Russia, will make energy prices rise excessively and force the countries seeking energy to come up with alternative plans. The Russian Far East and Siberia need to secure a stable business partner to develop the areas economically based on energy resources, but they may find it hard to get one. Therefore China, Korea, Japan and Russia need to stop building up friction and start looking for a win-win solution that will allow all countries to have a stable energy supply.
The fierce competition between Japan and China over energy resources is by no means good news for Korea. That is why Korea needs a policy that will support our role as a peacemaker in Northeast Asian energy cooperation. Korea needs to focus economic and diplomatic efforts on leading China and Japan into a system of mutual cooperation among the three countries and getting Russia to set up a system of cooperation between supplier and importing countries to develop effectively the energy resources of the Far East and eastern Siberia.
Therefore Korea needs to propose international cooperation as an agenda for Northeast Asian energy cooperation, not only to Russia but also to China and Japan. The three countries need to counteract the Russian role as the sole supplier of energy, not by individual advancement but by sticking together.
International cooperation for a secure energy supply and demand system in Northeast Asia will make energy security sound for China and Japan as well as Korea, and will contribute to the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia. Northeast Asian countries need to learn from the fact that the coal and steel cooperation system of Western Europe that started in the 1950s was the beginning of the European Union.
* The writer is the president of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ahn Choong-yong