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China’s Preference for Central Asia in the Energy Market

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With the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, the energy issue has become one of the most talked about issues in the world and has become one of the main factors affecting the relations between states. In this context, states that have energy resources want to be able to export their resources and actors that need energy want to establish energy security. However, this situation is not only within the framework of energy trade; In many ways, it affects relations and shapes the orientations of states in their foreign policy.

According to data for 2021, China ranks first in the world’s energy consumption with 165 quadrillion BTUs. The United States (USA) is second with approximately 98 quadrillion BTUs.[1] This situation makes China an important customer for states with energy reserves. China is an important customer, especially for states that are neighboring or close to China.

The increasing energy need in parallel with China’s increasing production capacity has been the main criterion in this process. However, with the Russia-Ukraine War, Beijing’s importance for Moscow increased even more. Having lost the European market, the Kremlin administration saw China as an important buyer in energy trade. In this context, it has implemented Power of Siberia 2 as well as Power of Siberia and a new natural gas pipeline construction project over Kazakhstan in order to increase energy exports to China.

In this way, Russia is trying to compensate for the loss it suffered during the war through China. However, it is not easy to implement projects in the short term. Because despite the sanctions, the construction of pipelines may face difficulties, and the policy that China will follow will also be important. Because even if Beijing gets closer to Moscow, it considers the reactions and criticisms from the West. As a matter of fact, considering the trade volume between the West and China, the economic importance of Moscow for Beijing weakens.

In this context, China shows interest in projects carried out with Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan against the pipelines Russia is trying to build. It is possible to construct a direct pipeline between Russia and China and to supply cheaper natural gas; There are various reasons such as geopolitical competition, security of investments, energy security and the reaction of the West among the reasons why Beijing prefers [2] Central Asia despite the more expensive natural gas purchase from Ashgabat and the construction of a line that will cross the region.

As mentioned above, Russia is subject to Western sanctions. At this point, Russia’s desire to sell energy resources to China is much stronger than China’s desire to buy Russia’s energy resources. Because one of Moscow’s main priorities today is to improve its economy, thanks to the energy resources sold to Beijing. On the other hand, China wants to diversify the countries it imports and not to be dependent only on Russia.

However, Russia and China are neighboring states that act against the West. In addition, both sides aim to build a multipolar world system. In other words, although Beijing and Moscow act jointly in the face of Western-based threats, they have a strong potential to be rivals against each other. Despite being in the leftist ideology during the Cold War, these two states took different positions after a while.

On the other hand, Central Asia is part of the post-Soviet geography. Russia does not want an actor other than itself to have a political, economic and military presence in this region. However, thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative, China aims to establish strong and multidimensional relations with the Central Asian states and tries to create an impact. The C+C5 Summit / Meeting on 19 May 2023 is expressed as one of the most concrete indicators of this.

In this process, China aims to increase its economic presence in Central Asia through energy-based agreements and new pipelines. In addition, Central Asia has relations with the West, the possibility of attracting the reaction of the West in the relations to be established is weakening, and it comes to the fore as one of the most stable and secure geographies in China’s immediate surroundings.

In addition to all these, the states of the region are in a stable economic development process. They also abide by the agreements made at the maximum level. For this reason, Central Asian states are important countries in terms of energy supply, except for the harsh winter months. This is very important for China’s energy security. Along with these, although it participates in a certain amount of costly projects at the point of energy supply, China is trying to reduce the cost of transporting energy within the country.

As a result, China is an important customer for energy resources exporting countries. However, while reaching energy sources; It does not only focus on the cheapest and least costly geographies. Because factors such as regional and global competition, developments in the energy market, Western actors, geopolitical developments and energy security shape China’s energy policy. Therefore, Beijing is trying to maximize its gains and minimize its losses by turning to Central Asia.


[1] “Total Energy Consumption 2021”, EIA, https://www.eia.gov/international/rankings/country/CHN?pid=44&aid=2&f=A&y=01%2F01%2F2021&u=0&v=none&pa=44, (Erişim Tarihi: 26.05.2023).

[2] Chen Aizhu-Marat Gurt, “China Prioritising Turkmenistan over Russia in Next Big Pipeline Project”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/china-prioritising-turkmenistan-over-russia-next-big-pipeline-project-2023-05-24/, (Erişim Tarihi: 26.05.2023).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.