[Outlook]It’s not just energy, it’s securityOne of our primary concerns is to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. However, Korea’s diplomacy should open new horizons to help us quickly respond to the byzantine and rapidly changing world of international politics. Energy security and resource diplomacy are two core areas we need to focus on. We need to swiftly and systematically establish our mid- to long-term strategies.
Many people still regard petroleum and natural gas as economic products, to which market principles ― the principle of supply and demand ― apply. However, that is just wishful thinking. As a matter of fact, petroleum and natural gas are nothing if not political security products.
In an era in which the price of oil has exceeded $100 per barrel, Korea, which has fewer resources than most nations, faces great challenges. However, we are not fully equipped with the mid- and long-term diplomatic strategies to secure energy resources, such as petroleum and gas.
When World War II ended, fierce competition for petroleum resources drove most of the big international political cases. For example, one of the core diplomatic initiatives for the United States during a Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union was removing the influence of the Soviet Union from the Middle East oil-rich countries. The major reason the United States intervened in the Gulf War was that if the petroleum resources of Kuwait fell into Iraq’s hands, it might have had a negative impact on the stability of petroleum supplies going to the Western countries.
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellik said China should be a “responsible stakeholder,” advocating that philosophy in public statements. In remarks he made in September 2005, the United States strongly criticized China’s aggressive energy policies. None-theless, China is striving to lay a firm domestic foundation, and it is devoted to securing energy resources to achieve that goal.
The United States has slapped economic sanctions against Sudan, Burma and Iran, due to human rights issues and the threat of nuclear proliferation. In addition, countries in the Middle East, Africa and Middle and South America are at odds with the United States.
Some experts say China is concerned about a matter of grave concern: If China intervenes in a dispute with Taiwan, the United States might capture the Malacca Straits and block its petroleum supply route from the Middle East. Therefore, China is sparing no efforts to develop oil supply routes by land through Central Asia and Siberia, rather than via maritime transportation. China’s plans are as follows: Build an oil supply pipeline linking the oil fields of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan eastward to the Chinese inland and from Taishet in Eastern Siberia to Daqing City of Heilongjiang Province.
It is not easy work.
China is at odds with the United States and Russia. The United States hopes to transport petroleum from Kazakhstan to Europe via Turkey. And Russia has already secured the pipeline, which is designed to convey petroleum northward. China has also been fiercely competing with Japan, which plans to pay the entire cost of a pipeline extending from East Siberia to Nakhodka, Russia on the Pacific Coast. If China fails to secure energy resources in both regions, there is a growing possibility that China will be at enmity with Japan in the East China Sea and with Asean countries in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, countries with no oil but produce one-sixth of the world’s GDP, are highly dependent on the Middle East region in terms of petroleum supplies. In this regard, some scholars in the United States worry it might contribute to closer ties between the Middle East and Northeast Asia. Therefore, they recommended energy cooperation be established in a multilateral manner in Northeast Asia.
If multilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia is realized, of course, that would benefit Korea. However, as Russia, China and Japan are some of the biggest countries in the world and have independent strengths and leverage, there is no guarantee they would be actively poised to take part in a multilateral cooperation forum. We are fully committed to devising and implementing our own systematic mid- and long-term strategies from a dispassionate and realistic perspective, rather than sticking to idealistic strategies and doing nothing.
Among them, one strategy is to build a pipeline transporting petroleum from the Maritime Province of Siberia via North Korea. Though the nuclear issue is the main obstacle, we need to be actively involved in conducting relevant global discussions. We can also create a preferable environment, because the North Korea policy of the George W. Bush administration has become pragmatic.
*The writer is a professor of international politics at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Young-kwan