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Volume 3, Issue 3 2007 Article 2
Understanding China’s Energy Security
University of British Columbia, email@example.com Originally published as Constantin Christian 2006. “Comprendre la s´ecurit´e ´energ´etique en Chine.” Politique et Soci´et´es. 25(2-3): 15-45. Reprinted with permission from Politique et Societies. Produced by The Berkeley Electronic Press.
1. Introduction On June 30th 2004∗, following a year of intense discussions, a study group made up of actors from the energy sector and headed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao set an energy policy stressing the importance of energy conservation, new technologies, and the protection of the environment. One would have expected that, in light of the rising prices of black gold, Beijing’s decision to revise its dependence vis-à-vis hydrocarbons be met with acclaim and considered as a step in the right direction. Yet, the Western press lashed out with critical articles on the impact of the Chinese demand on crude price and the risks Chinese consumption entail for the security of East Asia1. This discrepancy between the decisions taken in Beijing and the perception of China abroad may be explained by the reliance of some analysts of energy geopolitics or Chinese energy policy on dangerously short-sighted theoretical conceptions on energy security and decision-making processes. First of all, these theoretical approaches often give oil supply a privileged position to the detriment of other energy sources or demand-control measures. Second, these analyses either attribute an overall unity to the Chinese regime, or see bureaucratic bargaining as the only mechanism of political innovation. These approaches do not do justice and cannot convincingly describe the evolution of debates on energy policy within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since the coming to power of the Hu Jintao administration. This paper seeks to offer a different perspective of China’s energy policy and of the role played by security issues in its definition. Hence, it will impart particular attention to conceptions and ideas held by the actors involved in the energy policy decision-making process. It will demonstrate that the different measures that make up Chinese energy policy are the result of a debate among proponents of three frames 2 – a strategic vision, a market approach, and a conception of “scientific development”– simultaneously exhibited within China’s energy policy community. Each one of these frames sheds light in a unique fashion on the objective conditions confronting Chinese decision-makers by ∗ A preliminary version of this text was presented at the CEPES’ symposium titled: The Challenges of Governance in China, September 17 2004.
The author would like to thank the Center of International Relations at the University of BritishColumbia and the SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) for their financial support, as well as the Center for Strategic Studies (Zhanlüe yanjiusuo) of Qinghua University for their warm welcome and their logistical support. 1 For example, Lam (2004) and Tanner (2004). 2 I will come back to this concept in greater details later in the text. 1 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 identifying some of them as problematic while leaving others in the shadows, and, at the same time, they offer solutions articulated in their own terms. If these frames provide the substance of problem definition and solutions, it is also important to note that certain structural factors, namely economic culture, political institutions, and administrative procedures impose a selection among frames or limit the possibility of them being converted into viable policies. 2. Approaches to China’s Policymaking 2.1 The Rationalist Approach China’s central state is often viewed as a rational and unitary actor. This perception is common because of theoretical reasons peculiar to the discipline of international relations, but also because the workings of the central Chinese state remain largely unknown. The conception of a monolithic central regime is also conveyed by the literature concerned by center-region relations or by the opposition between the regime and China’s civil society3. This theoretical perspective stems from a long tradition of research which postulates a rational process of public administration. This process begins with the identification of problems to solve and objectives to achieve, then proceeds to the identification of available solutions and the evaluation of their consequences and leads, finally, to the adoption of the appropriate solution in light of a costsbenefits assessment4. Although it is well known that very few actual public policy processes come close to this ideal, it nevertheless remains widespread when it comes to studying China. Its main advantage lies in its ability to provide plausible hypotheses on the objectives and solutions that avail themselves to Chinese leaders in a situation where the nature of the regime limits researchers’ access to the decision-making process 5 . It goes without saying that this model seems particularly well adapted to approximate the decisions of a regime with a high degree of autonomy from social pressures and in which political leaders enjoy considerable power over their subordinates. A majority of analyses dealing with the international consequences of China’s energy policy adopts this model. To authors of these analyses, the growing dependence of this country on oil imports, forces Chinese leaders to adopt a series of diplomatic and administrative measures to limit the negative effects of this dependency. Thus, the Chinese strategy of investing in foreign oil resources (Zouchuqu or Going Out), the development of diplomatic and 3 For a few examples, see Shambaugh (2000), Roy (1998) and White, and Xiaoyuan (1996). 4 This classic model was originally elaborated from the Weberian concept of ideal bureaucracy and Taylor’s model of scientific administration (Gerth 1973; Taylor 2003).
5 Graham Allison mentioned this theoretical advantage of rationalistic models in the study of Soviet foreign policy (Allison 1999). 2 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 commercial ties with a variety of oil producing countries, the acceleration of the exploitation of national energy resources as well as the creation of a strategic oil reserve, to name a few, can be seen as part of a larger strategy of resource control. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would thus have adopted a shortage-equalsthreatto-security reasoning and applied a mercantilist approach that relies on bilateral diplomatic contacts with oil producing countries to beef up its energy security (Yergin, Eklof and Edwards 1998; Herberg 2003). Conclusions about the international order that researchers derive from these recent developments sometimes diverge though. Some see it as a new source of rivalry between China and other oil importing countries (Lewis 2002; Kane and Serewicz 2001; Salameh 1995-1996). Kent Calder, an eminent specialist of energy in Asia, considers that “At the root of Asia’s energy security problem is China -a rising, frustrated, revisionist power in which ideological communism is yielding to nationalism- and its new status as an oil importer” (Calder, 1996: 56). For others, however, China’s increased participation in international energy markets can facilitate regional and international cooperation. Indeed, China and the United States share a common interest in ensuring the stability of oil supply. China and its neighbors could also team up to develop hydrocarbon resources in Central Asia and Russia. Furthermore, the cooperation between China and the countries of the OECD is reinforced by the mere fact that there are programs tying Beijing to the International Energy Agency (IEA) (Harrison 2002; Yoshihara and Sokolsky 2002; Anonymous 1999; Christoffersen 1992; Ögütçü 1998). The application of the rationalist model of decision-making to the China’s energy security policy suffers from the well-known ailments of this model. First, this model suggests that Chinese leaders enjoy complete knowledge of alternative solutions and a capacity to calculate the costs and benefits of each option’s consequences. This particular premise was abandoned some time ago in most research on administrative decision-making processes (March 1978). Furthermore, these studies presuppose a unity of view within the Chinese state or, at least, leaders with sufficient power to impose their views over the whole state apparatus. However, these two premises seem difficult to maintain, even in the context of China’s political regime (Jianrong, 1999). One last problem occurs when this model is used to study Chinese energy security policies: the objectives pursued by China are mostly seen in terms of access to oil resources. This tendency introduces an important bias: problems related to the energy sector but not directly related to oil are systematically dealt with in a residual manner. 3. Fragmented Authoritarianism The limits of the rationalist model have led to the development of new, more realistic, models of public administration. On the one hand, researchers could no longer ignore the fact that public policies represent less the result of a 3 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security
Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 decisive choice among clear alternatives than the consequences of an incremental process of transformation in preexisting policies in a context of incertitude with regard to their likely consequences6. On the other hand, the discrepancy between the optimal policies identified by the rationalist model and the policies implemented was explained in two ways: it was either the impact of socioeconomic interest groups exerting pressure on their political representatives, or it is seen as the fruit of internal conflicts among bureaucratic agencies in search of more resources or locked in standard operating procedures restraining their capacity to innovate (Niskanen 1994). In China, this theoretical current paved the way to the “fragmented authoritarianism” model developed at the end of the 1980s by Lieberthal and Oksenberg. These authors explain the decisions taken by the Chinese government in terms of power and struggle among bureaucratic units of the Chinese state (Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988). In a similar fashion, other authors explain these decisions as a result of conflicts among leaders and their network of clients spanning the state apparatus and the provinces (Shirk, 1993). This type of approach appears particularly appropriate to describe energy politics in China since the context in which decision-making takes place is characterized by a decentralized administrative structure, unclear hierarchy among the different administrative units involved, close and under-regulated relationships between state enterprises and administrative structures, as well as the fact that coordination among actors in energy politics is held only at the end of their respective decision-making process, in other words, each actor has already prepared detailed projects and is set on implementing them before they meet. This strong decentralization is responsible for the involvement of numerous actors with various and often conflicting interests in the decision-making process. New policies are often the result of a long bargaining process between participating agencies. Thus, more often than not, adopted policies lack in cohesion, since from one political measure to another, bureaucratic participants tend to be different. Finally, these policies are never definitive; bargaining can begin anew in an ulterior phase in the implementation process (Lampton 1992; Junhua 2003). Numerous authors, Chinese as well as Westerners, have noticed that one of the major problems facing China in its quest for energy security can be traced back to a lack in coherence between measures (Fengying 2003; International 6 For Lindblom, incrementalism in public policies is characterized by: (1) decision-making through small or incremental moves on particular problems rather than through a comprehensive reform program, (2) it takes the form of an indefinite sequence of political moves, 3) it is exploratory, as the goals of policy-making continue to change as new experience with policies throws new light on what is possible and desirable, and (4) it is moving away from known social ills rather than moving toward a known and relatively stable goal Braybrooke and Lindblom (1963). 4 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 Energy Agency, 2000: 8). Philip Andrews-Speed is probably the most representative author of this school of thought. According to him, the lack of clear
authority in an already decentralized sector, the direct involvement of state owned oil enterprises (SOOE) in policy formulation coupled with the weakness of the legislative branch and the absence of strong regulation hinder the emergence of an integrated and coherent energy policy. Furthermore, the competition among bureaucratic agencies seems also to be condoned by Chinese leaders expecting that representatives from different ministries will defend the interests of their own organization (Andrews-Speed, 2004: 32,53). These bureaucratic disputes have hindered the liberalization of the energy sector and led to the adoption of a “strategic” approach to energy security. This strategic approach is aimed at limiting the Chinese dependence on international markets by promoting self-sufficiency, the use of national resources, state-owned enterprises investments in overseas hydrocarbon assets and tight control over exports and imports of energy products. According to Andrews-Speed, this approach to energy security is counterproductive as it may engender problems such as domestic price instability and the waste of financial resources in investments with dubious returns. Furthermore, it could lead China to get involved in bilateral agreements entailing potentially explosive political and military compensations (Andrews-Speed, Xuanli and Dannreuther 2002). The bureaucratic competition model brings increased realism to the study of decision-making processes, but carries certain weaknesses as well (Lieberthal, 1992). First, if the model can accurately explain gradual changes taking place in established policies, it has more trouble to deal with quick shifts in orientations that can also take place in public policy (Scot Tanner, 1999: 27; Schulman, 1975). Indeed, confronted with sudden shifts in policies, the authors who rely on this model must often invoke the actions of Chinese political leaders, who acting as deus ex machina save the state from the bureaucratic drama. Second, more often than not, this model takes the problems of the rationalist model of decisionmaking to a lower level of analysis. Indeed, instead of picturing states as unitary and rational actors with predefined interests and objectives, this model depicts bureaucratic or faction actors who pursue their objectives rationally by weighing in the pros and cons of such or such measure. Another problem emerges when we realize that this grid of analysis can only take into account those who enjoy resources —material or bureaucratic— which are readily exchanged. It is thus unable to capture the important role played by think tanks and university research centers in the identification of problems and the elaboration of solutions (Li 2002; Naughton 2002). Finally, except ex post facto this model teaches us little about the substance of policies because a multitude of political measures can be in line with the objective interests of the actors involved. To state after the fact that a policy is favorable to the interests of the strongest coalition of actors is arbitrary if 5 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 we don’t take into account the ideas held by political actors prior to the decision and which give a political meaning to their interests. 4. Ideational Approach By taking as granted that public policies are nothing more than mirrors of actors’ interests – of the state or of socio-economic groups, traditional approaches
tend to reject any independent role that ideas may have in the Chinese administrative process (Yu 2004; Reardon 2002; Halpern 1989). However, many recent researches attribute a greater role to ideas in the elaboration of policies in other nations7. The political debate does not limit itself to a struggle around unambiguous material conditions, but rather deals with strategic representations of what is legitimate, of what ought to be done. By manipulating these representations, political actors can create conditions propitious to the formation of coalitions that transcend cleavages due to conflicting material interests. It is through this process of strategic representation that actors come to shape their perceived interests with regard to a given political issue. The social construction of problems and of the available solutions provide the raw material that allows the concrete expression of socio-economic or bureaucratic interests, what actors desire or are actually able to desire. An analysis which puts the emphasis on political ideas may reduce the researcher’s “disposition effect” by refocusing the analysis on actors’ intentions8. I will follow a two-pronged analytical strategy in order to better highlight the role of ideas in the elaboration of energy security measures. First, it seems important to put energy security questions back in the broader context of China’s energy policy. Indeed, one of the most common problems of current studies of this particular issue is caused by the adoption of a narrow version of energy security and which restrict analyses to measures related to oil supply. As I will demonstrate, the debate on energy security in China is located within a much larger debate that deals with the future structure of the country’s energy needs and of the national energy production. 7 For recent reviews of this literature, see Béland (2005), and Lieberman (2002). 8 These “disposition effects” are on display in Erika Strecker-Downs’ analysis of the debates surrounding energy security in China. Indeed, this author takes as granted that the notion of energy security is grounded in stable oil supplies and thus limits her analysis to the presentation of bureaucratic discussions related to the implementation of diverse measures aimed at enhancing oil security. She thus brackets out the internal debates in China about the larger issue of defining energy security and the priorities that this definition entails (Strecker-Downs, 2004). On the importance of taking into account actors’ intentions to avoid these “disposition effects”, see: Dobbin (1994) and Boudon (1986). 6 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 Second, I intend to analyze the elaboration of China’s energy policy as the result of political games revolving around three frames: a strategic vision, a market approach and a conception based on “scientific development”. A frame is a “perspective from which an amorphous, ill-defined, problematic situation can be made sense of and acted on” (Rein and Schön 1993). It provides a way to select, organize, and interpret a complex reality and provides the references needed for knowledge, analysis, persuasion and action. The use of frames allows participants in the decision-making process to identify problems and priorities, to specify their interests and objectives, to back their empirical and normative judgments on a
solid theoretical basis, and hence lends them moral or scientific credibility in political debates (Bleich, 2003). The importance of frames is not limited to their role in interpreting the world. They also endow political entrepreneurs with tools for persuasion, which are crucial in decision-making processes, and this, even in a closed political system like that of China9. By calling on the shared values of the polity or on scientific or moral superiority, frames provide the necessary arguments for the promotion of a policy or the rejection of an antagonist point of view. By reframing wider questions on the basis of their own conception of what should be done, participants to the political game can also call upon broader cultural or historical referents to buttress their own point of view, and build “causality stories” to attribute responsibility for a political problem to another actor or to a given structural condition (Schmidt 2002; Blyth 2002; Campbell 1998; Stone 1989). Three types of energy security representations are available for states to choose from: a strategic conception, a market approach and vision inspired by environmental considerations 10 . The first two representations entail the preservation of the development model based on hydrocarbons adopted worldwide, but differ on the role the state and the market should play to ensure the security of supplies. The third one suggest the possibility of moving to a new mode of energy production and consumption which would help to reduce both environmental risks and concerns over supplies and the security of energy infrastructures. Each one of these frames is present in China. The 1990s were primarily characterized by a debate between the strategic conception of energy security and the neoliberal grid of analysis. However, the coming of a new leadership team in 2003 and the development of a new rhetoric of “scientific development” (kexue 9 Nina P. Halpern (1992) uses the concept of “competitive persuasion” as the cornerstone of her analysis of Chinese bureaucratic processes. 10 In a similar fashion, Måns Nilsson (2005) identifies three basic frames in Swedish energy policy: « energy as infrastructure », « energy as market » and « energy as risk ». 7 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 fazhan) have introduced a new environmental dimension to the debate on energy policy. In order to identify frames and their influence over policy, I will follow a model of policy formulation based on three relatively independent “streams”: the “problem stream”, the “policy stream” and the “political stream” (Kingdon 1995). The direct impact of frames is more likely to be visible in the discursive enterprises which take place at the level of problems definition and policy formulation. In conclusion, I will focus on political opportunities, which puts into play political institutions and cultural variables such as the national mood, to demonstrate how the mechanisms of reframing, combining, and rhetorical construction, explain the emergence of a window of opportunity which allows innovation in policies pertaining to Chinese energy security. 5. Frames
5.1 The Strategic Point of View Originally intimately related to the military performance of nations at war, energy security was first viewed in terms of access to oil resources, then as the oil weapon wielded by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the 1970s. According to this approach, energy security is achieved when: (1) adequate supply is sufficient to support a healthy national economy; (2) allies also have access to these supplies; (3) the concerned nation and its allies have the means to protect their vital energy supplies if threatened (Ahearne 1985). For consumers, price and availability are the two most important aspects of energy security; but for governments it is rather a question of supply diversification, which allows the reduction of vulnerability, and fuel diversification which seeks to lower dependence on oil (Ebel 2003). It would thus be dangerous to let the energy mix of a country be dictated by the market alone, since consumers and firms would presumably turn to the cheapest fuel and thus increase the level of vulnerability and dependency of the country (Belgrave, Ebinger and Okino 1987). This conception guides an important number of Chinese analyses dealing with the geopolitics of oil, the necessary strategic measures to ensure China’s access to oil resources —investments abroad, the construction of pipelines, the creation of military and merchants fleets to protect supplies, etc.— and the risks of too much dependence on the Middle East, a very unstable region controlled by the United States11. 11 For a few examples, see Jianhua (2003), Yuncheng, Zhugui, Chunqiang, Yujun, Junhong and Wei (2003), Yishan (2002) , and Zhongqiang (2001). 8 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 From this point of view, the most important problem in the China’s energy sector can be traced back to the country’s transition in 1993 from the status of exporter to that of net importer. From that day on, its dependence on oil imports grew dramatically (see figure 1). From 1993 to 2003, the national oil production remained stagnant –it grew by an average of 1.7% during these years– whereas the major, but quickly maturing, oil fields of Daqing and Shengli12 were slowly declining and exploration, offshore as well as in the Tarim Basin, remained disappointing. Meanwhile, oil consumption has grown an average of 7% per year during the same period. This increase follows, of course, the economic growth of the country, but is also the result of recent reforms in the transportation sector and the conversion of China to the automobile civilization –the production of that industry increased by about 50% per year since the turn of the millennium boosted by a 256% increase in car loans since their debut, in 1998, and the end of 200313. Figure 1: China’s oil production, consumption and importations, in million of barrels per day, 1980-2003. 12 These fields are responsible for more than 50% of China’s national production. 13 These loans made up only 20% of the car market in 2003, compared to 70% in more advanced economies (Mc Gregor 2003). Importations
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 Consommation Production 9 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 Even though Chinese consumers have not yet encountered problems in oil supply from the international markets, the growth of the dependence vis-à-vis imports has been portrayed as a major crisis by promoters of the strategic frame. Many rhetorical tropes were used to underline the acuity of this crisis. First, some called on national values and harked back to the self-sufficiency ideal exalted during the Maoist era in order to campaign in favor of the development of domestic energy resources. At the same time, to discourage increased reliance on international markets, analogies of the painful experiences of the Sino-Soviet rift, which eventually led to the end of the Russian oil supply, and of the embargo imposed by Western nations on China during the Cold War were summoned and supplemented by the evocation of the two international oil crises and of the blockade imposed by the United States on Imperial Japan. Finally, the question of energy dependence has also been linked to maintaining social stability due to the importance of fossil fuels production and transformation in China’s employment. The significance of this issue is even more obvious when we take into account that the traditional regional base of the Chinese oil industry has suffered the most from economic reforms over the past twenty-five years and does not benefit from increased energy imports. These arguments were sufficiently convincing to provide the main thrust to the elaboration of China’s energy policy throughout the last decade. In 1993, Li Peng set the twin objectives of guaranteeing a stable oil supply to China and making sure that it does not become vulnerable to an external embargo in the future as the top priorities (Chang 2001). In a similar fashion, the 10th Five-Year Plan, presented in 2001, puts the preservation of supply security at the top of its energy strategy. In order to reach that goal, the plan puts the emphasis on innovation in production technologies and expects the accelerated development of national energy resources, on the pursuit of the Zouchuqu policy which encourages investments in foreign assets, on the creation of a strategic reserve, on the diversification of supply sources, and on the development of alternative fuels14. 5.2 The Market Approach The second school of thought on energy security was developed in parallel to the comeback of neo-classical economic ideas in a context of global oil glut. Here, security is essentially seen in terms of economic costs related to sudden changes in supply or energy prices (Bohi and Toman 1996). According to this
14 Zhonghua renmin gongheguo guojia fazhan he gaige weiyuanhui [National Development and Reform Commission], 2001, Guomin jingji he shehui fazhan dishige wunian jihua. Nengyuan fazhan zhongdian zhuanding guihua [Tenth Five-Year Plan of Social and Economic Development. Special Section on the Energy Development Program.], [www.ndrc.gov.cn]. 10 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 approach, government interference should be limited to cases of market failure15. One of the most important observations of this approach deals with the “fungibility” of oil, a characteristic that renders useless any policy based on the diversification of sources, since, in the global oil market, all consumers are affected by price variations due to a disruption of supply even if it is localized (Hogan 1985). Accordingly, the path to security goes through enhanced integration of national and international markets, the development of hedging tools such as the oil futures market, and the establishment of an international juridical framework which would guarantee investments and multilateral cooperation. Ideally, state intervention would be limited to the diffusion of information in a multilateral context, the support of innovation, and, for some, the management of a strategic oil reserve which would be used in case of momentary supply disruption (Andrews-Speed and Vinogradov 2000; May 1998; Fesharaki 1999). These precepts apply to the whole energy sector as well since deregulation is often seen as a cure to all the ailments that afflict a sector which tends to be naturally dominated by monopolies. The liberal conception of energy security is much less frequent in Chinese debates. Nevertheless, many authors and specialists point out that international markets can answer to the international and Chinese demand and that China needs only to improve its international cooperation to reduce the impact of sudden changes in oil prices and to counter the influence of the OPEC (Zekun 2004; Lei 2003). Others adopt the pro-deregulation arguments and advocate improved competition in China’s energy markets as well as innovation as means to foster the development of new resources16. Finally, some proponents of the creation of a strategic reserve in China believe that this measure can only make sense in a wider, regional or international, context of cooperation (Lei 2003). According to this frame, oil dependency is not necessarily the most important problem facing China since international markets are now sufficiently developed to absorb short-term shocks and since global resources are seen as sufficient to accommodate demand over the medium term (Xing, Xiaolin, Jialin and Li 2003). The most important problem in oil security is rather related to the state’s control over prices and the monopoly of state firms in refining and distribution. The fact that crude oil prices are fixed monthly by the state in light of international markets has, for example, allowed distributors to hoard oil during 15 It is interesting to note that, according to this vision, the costs generated by the deployment of troops to ensure the stability of oil production regions, the environment externalities, and the issue of oil-induced commercial deficits are not taken into consideration in the calculation of the adequate price of energy (Bohi 1993).
16 For a review of these arguments, see Yanrui (2003). 11 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 the weeks of rising prices prior to the American invasion of Iraq, a behavior which in turn led to localized shortages (Jun 2003; Teo, 2003). From this point of view on energy security, the most pressing problem is rather to be found in the incomplete reform of the power sector. This situation is responsible for a pendulum movement between surpluses and deficits of production. The last manifestation of this phenomenon began in the summer of 2003. That year’s exceptional growth in electricity demand —up 15.3% over the previous year, a dry and hot summer coupled with a failure in planning led to brownouts and blackouts in half of China’s provinces. This crisis was due for the most part to a freeze in the construction of new plants imposed in 1999 as a response to power surpluses caused by low demand during the Asian crisis of 1997-1998. Yet, although this moratorium ended in 2002, its long-term effects were deeply felt in the mid-2000s as delays of three to four years, even more for nuclear plants, are necessary in order to put a new plant online. To this serious bureaucratic blunder, we can add droughts responsible for empty hydroelectric reservoirs, quick growth of energy-intensive industries like those of aluminum, steel and cement, problems related to the half-baked liberalization of coal prices, and a population increasingly able to afford modern household appliances. These phenomena converged in 2003-2004 and led to the worst electric supply crisis since the beginning of the reforms17. However, the administrative measures undertaken to slow demand growth and to encourage the construction of new power plants risk to reverse shortages and create a new situation power glut in 2006 or 2007. The discursive ammunition available to promoters of the market point of view on energy security is also much diversified. First, they can rely on the abundant Western theoretical corpus expounding the virtues of deregulation as the best way to ensure an efficient energy supply, a theoretical corpus which draws its authority from the different technical and scientific canons of economic sciences and on the recommendations of international economic organizations. Second, the international experience is also used as an analogy to stress the potential gains that China could secure by increasing competition in its energy sector. The causality discourse produced within this framework further indicates that the sources of the instability in China’s energy supply are to be found in the actions of state monopolies and in the control of prices which both introduce irrationality in the market. 17 Ore prices are determined by the market whereas electricity prices are still controlled by the state. Coal prices have escalated during the last few years in response to the closing down of many dangerous and polluting mines, the competition from the steel sector, and the closure of oil-flared plants. Because of that, many thermal plants have been operating at sub-regime rather than sustaining important losses (Anonymous 2003e; Anonymous 2003a). 12 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2
http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 Of course, in the background of this discourse lays the privileged solution for all these problems: to leave more freedom to market mechanisms while ensuring minimal regulation to prevent the rise of monopolies. The action of the state should thus be limited to a few roles like improving international cooperation, either within the framework of global or regional institutions, or facilitating foreign investments in China’s energy industry. Another important task would be the development of institutions which would help regulating the market or would allow China to improve its action in international markets, like the development of an oil futures market and the creation of a strategic oil reserve (Daojiong 2004; Zhun 2003; Zhonglang 2003; Anonymous 2002). A report by the State Council Development Research Center (SC-DRC, Guowuyuan fazhan yanjiu zhongxin) made public in 2002, thus emphasized a set of measures influenced by the market frame: (1) the development of a better administrative and juridical system in the oil sector, (2) accelerated exploitation and development of national resources, (3) development of natural gas resources, (4) cooperation with international oil producing states, (5) the creation of a strategic reserve, and (6) increased oil consumption efficiency (Runsheng, Yan and Shenyuan 2000). 5.3 The Environmental Grid A third conception of energy security stems from the identification of two important elements missing from traditional definitions (Stares 2000): the risks due to polluting emissions and those entailed by centralized systems of energy production and distribution vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Often environmental issues are seen as going against the grain of energy security. Increased attention to the former is seen as leading to important sacrifices in terms of security. For instance, the use of coal as a substitute to oil can limit dependence on imports but is also linked to serious environmental degradation (Yergin 1991: 779; Stanislaw 2004). The third current on energy security thus tries to highlight how new energy sources can both serve environmental security purposes and ensure supplies (Flavin and Dunn 1999)18. In order to do that, it is not only necessary to see oil security within a larger picture encompassing all types of energy, but also to adopt a concept of security that applies to all stages of the energy cycle: extraction, transport, transformation/consumption and elimination of wastes produced by this cycle. Since they can be produced in situ and do not involve a dangerous and vulnerable industrial structure and because they are less polluting, renewable energies would contribute more to national security than nuclear energy or fossil 18 It may be argued that this new approach is trying to “flatten” the “Maslow Pyramid” of energy security so that supply needs, viewed as the priority, are not be satisfied at the expense of the environmental needs, seen traditionally as secondary. See Frei (2004). 13 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 fuels which necessitate the transportation of dangerous products over long distances and often from unstable regions, their transformation in polluting and hard to protect infrastructures, their distribution on highly vulnerable domestic networks while at the same time being responsible for the production of
environment-damaging wastes (Stoett and Pretti 2003). This perspective on energy security is embodied in China’s concept of “conservation society” (jieyuexing shehui) which has been diffused in the country after the rise to power of the leadership team led by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. They first introduced the concept of “scientific development” which seeks to integrate economic development, reduction of social inequities, and the protection of the environment. This concept has since been elevated to the status of official doctrine by the national propaganda apparatus and has been relayed at all level of the state apparatus (Fewsmith 2004). The concept of “conservation society” is included in this broader doctrine and constitutes its application to the sectors of energy and natural resources. It first appeared in the Tenth Five Year Plan (20012006), but was only recently exposed in greater details by Ma Kai, the head of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). It has since been used by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on many occasions before being the object of indepth media coverage in the spring of 2004. It aims at putting an end to the bottlenecks hindering development and to support the transformation of the current conception of economic development toward a more sustainable concept of development (kechixu fazhan) (Kai 2003; Tiemao 2004). In other words, this new development philosophy is geared at the conservation of resources —energy having a priority status within the larger body of natural resources— and is to be realized through technological innovation, through the reduction in energy consumption generated by the transformation of China’s industrial structure and the reduction in energy intensity (the amount of energy per unit of GDP), and through popular education and state intervention. If the advocates of this approach recognize the problems in supply and inefficient regulations, they maintain that it is essential to link these difficulties to the environmental issue and to the important social and economic costs it entails. According to a World Bank study published in 1997, pollution costs China 8% of its GDP, close to 20 billion dollars in health care, in addition to around 200,000 premature deaths every year (Johnson 1997). China’s energy choices weigh heavily in the country’s future environment balance. In the first place, China is dependent for almost two thirds of its energy on coal, available in large quantities on its territory (Energy Information Agency 2004). Second, energy consumption in the transportation sector, which generally accounts for the largest share of fossil fuels consumption and polluting emissions, makes up a mere 15% of the 14 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 overall Chinese energy consumption and is thus bound to increase19. Finally, China is already the world’s second most important source of greenhouse gases with 13.5% of global emissions, yet these emissions represent little more than 10% of per capita emissions in the United States. Proponents of this new approach shore up their discourse on the failure of traditional frames to include considerations about the environmental impacts of current modes of production and energy consumption. They thus suggest a new language to evaluate the environmental impact of economic decisions: to calculate a measure of “Green GDP” which subtracts environmental costs from the
traditional GDP equation. Promoters of this frame stress that China’s international status will be affected if it proves unable to control transnational emissions. Finally, the specter of social instability as a result of urban pollution is also used to emphasize the urgency to revise thinking about energy policy. The “Short and Long Term Strategy of Energy Development, 2004-2020” made public on June 30th 2004 as the result of a large consultation headed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao offers a variety of solutions which concretely articulate the environment frame: (1) to make reduction in energy consumption the core of the energy policy, (2) to adjust and optimize the energy structure, (3) to encourage the rationalization and the regional coordination of energy projects, (4) to make use of both national and international resources, (5) to base energy development on technological innovation, (6) to improve environment protection, (7) to strengthen energy security by diversifying the sources of supply, (8) to improve market mechanisms by speeding up reforms in the energy sector (Anonymous 2004b). To execute this plan, NDRC calls for an improvement in the diffusion of resource conservation techniques, for more technological innovation, for stronger regulations and norms, for a transformation in the structure of production, and for the creation of a “circular economy” (xunhuan jingji) (Kai 2004) 20. The emphasis is thus put firstly on measures aimed at improving the country’s energy efficiency, either by betting on the gradual modification of the country’s economic structure —from the polluting and energy-intensive manufacturing industry to the service industry— or by improving the energy saving measures through the elevation of standards, the replacement of obsolete equipment and the use of more efficient technologies (Anonymous 2003d; Anonymous 2003c). Secondly, the modification of the energy production structure will also attribute a greater role to “cleaner energy”: hydroelectricity, 19 The IEA estimates that this share will reach 23% by 2030. International Energy Agency (2002). 20 The term “Circular Economy” is the official translation used in English-language Chinese media, yet the Chinese term would be closer to the idea of a “close circuit economy” or “full circuit economy”. The expression “recycling economy” is also used, but may lead to some confusion. 15 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 renewable energy, natural gas, but also nuclear power. Thirdly, in order to guarantee the concrete implementation of these measures, the proponents of this approach suggest the adoption of a new mode of calculating GDP as mentioned above. 6. Political Choice The selection of one frame over another is, of course, not carried out only at the level of ideas; ideas can stand at the margin for a long time before being attached to a problem and then have a political echo. Institutional and cultural variables, as well as the persuasive power of idea advocates, can play an important role, if not a more important role, than the idea itself in its transformation into concrete policy. To paraphrase Risse-Kappen, “ideas do not
float freely”(Risse-Kappen 1995). To have a political impact, a frame must be supported, reformulated, softened, or adapted to the flavor of the day by political entrepreneurs, individuals or organizations who are ready to invest time and political capital to promote their pet policies21. Then, a favorable political window must open to enable these entrepreneurs to link objective conditions viewed as problematic and available solutions to the political context of the moment (national mood, leaders’ priorities, the interplay of socio-economic groups, etc.) (Kingdon 1995:19). I suggest first to identify the main political entrepreneurs of the Chinese energy sector, then to describe the necessary conditions for the opening of a window of opportunity. The Western literature on Chinese energy policy identifies a certain number of key actors in this process. In general, a typology of actors includes important SOEs in the energy field (CNPC, Sinopec and CNOOC), the NDRC, the different ministries involved in energy issues (Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Finance, etc.) and, to a lesser extent, the major financial Chinese holdings (China International Trust and Investment Corporation, CITIC), the energy services firms, and the military(Strecker-Downs 2004; Cole 2003). Notwithstanding the fact, underlined above, that the “manipulators of symbols” are excluded, this list seems problematic for two reasons. First, it does not allow 21 For Rein and Schön (1993), "Frames are never self-interpreting", the interpretation of frames has to be executed by advocates who set up the frame, explain its implications on public action and develop the argumentation that must sustain that action. Recognizing that these political ideas are carried by specific actors does not constitute a return to “fragmented authoritarianism” though. First, all political actors are not political entrepreneurs. Second, these actors' interests are not only shaped by their material bases or their bureaucratic position, but are also formulated in terms of the frames diffused by political entrepreneurs. Finally, the consensus that provides the substance of concrete political measures is built through frame reinterpretation or frame synthesis rather than through a process of bargaining around material or bureaucratic resources. See (Hall 1997: 194). 16 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 us to distinguish at which point in the political process, stakeholders exert their influence. Yet, it seems crucial to distinguish political actors whose actions influence policies through the definition of problems and solutions, and those who have a role downstream from this process. Second, Chinese leaders tend to be excluded from these typologies as they are seen as last moment brokers in the decision-making process. Yet, it is clear that the role of Chinese leaders does not stop at settling bureaucratic quarrels, but is much more pro-active. Indeed, Chinese leaders play an important role, not only in the shaping of political windows and in the identification of problems, but also in the process of formulating solutions. This hands-on approach seems to be relatively different from that of their Western counterparts22. Their influence over policy formulation is not, in general, felt in the elaboration of concrete policy measures, but rather in the promotion of general theories which set the main directions which will later influence the development of concrete policies23. The need to formulate these new
theories can probably be explained by tradition – the theoretical work of Mao, Deng, and later Jiang Zemin have all been enshrined in the Chinese Constitution; but it may also be explained by the expectation that new leaders will create their own theoretical legacy to put some distance between them and the previous generation of leaders (Fewsmith 2004; Tanner 2004: 212). Thus, the notion of “conservation society” is often associated to the concepts of “scientific development”, “circular economy”, and “sustainable development”. These different terms have all been used to criticize the style of short-term, wasteful and polluting extensive development which came to symbolize the rapidly growing Chinese economy during the 1990s (Quanquan and Juhua 2004). The state apparatus’ think tanks also play a central role in the identification of problems as much as in the elaboration of solutions. Two organizations seem particularly important in this regard. First, the SC-DRC which provides the Prime Minister’s office with studies and evaluations. Ever since its creation in 1981, this center has articulated the preferences of the Prime Minister’s office by emphasizing economic reforms and liberalization under Zhu Rongji, then by focusing on environmental and social measures since the nomination of Wen Jiabao. However, this center also has its own measures of predilection. Thus, due in part to the hierarchic affiliation of its energy section to its industrial economics division, the improvement of energy efficiency and conservation have always 22 In general, the latter are viewed as too preoccupied by the political game and the evolution of public opinion to take part directly in the theoretical elaboration of solutions. 23 In this sense, Chinese leaders can play the role of « path-shapers ». See Cox (2001). 17 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 been part of the measures recommended by the center24. The DRC has thus played a major role in the translation of the “scientific development” frame. The second source of interpretation of energy problems and formulation of solutions is the Energy Research Institute (ERI, Nengyuan yanjiusuo) of the NDRC. The NDRC plays a double role since it formulates the final version of policies and is in charge of implementing them, but it is also engaged in frame promotion through its Energy Research Center. In contradistinction to the DRC, the ERI has pushed forward, in a regular manner, a strategic vision of China’s energy problems by emphasizing the development of national resources, price control and the Zouchuqu policy 25 . The bureaucratic culture of NDRC can probably be partly held accountable for this tendency since, as the direct heir to the State Planning Commission, this institution is imbued with an interventionist tradition and still maintains intimate ties with state firms. Other research centers also have a role in framing energy issues. Thus, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS) and from universities can directly voice their concerns to the different political leaders and put forward recommendations ranging from the promotion of hydrogen as a replacement fuel to the deregulation of the power sector26. Research centers on international relations or strategic and military questions were also among the first to attract attention to the strategic risk that dependence on imports can create. Thus, if, like many have noted, the military hierarchy does not have a direct role
to play in the decision-making on energy policy27, research centers affiliated with the military play a central role in the formulation of policy programs. It appears that major state-owned firms in the energy field are rarely present at the stages of problem identification or in the elaboration of political alternatives. Their role seems rather located downstream in the process: they react to actual policies, by supporting some and opposing others, without necessarily following a coherent political frame28. Thus, the wavering that has characterized the creation of the strategic oil reserve has more to do with the sharing of respective financial burden between the state and its firms than with the lack of 24 Interview at DRC, Beijing, May 2004. See also DRC, 2003, “Guojia nengyuan zhanlüe de jiben gouxiang” [A Few Basic Concepts on the National Energy Strategy], Renmin wang, November 16. 25 Interview at the ERI, Beijing, May 2004. The ERI has nonetheless adopted certain aspects of the sustainable development program since one of its main suggestions is the reduction of the country’s dependency on coal in favor of cleaner energy sources. 26 Interviews at CASS, Beijing, March 2005. 27 Strecker-Downs, “The Chinese Energy Security Debate”, p. 26-27. 28 This finding is consistent with Heclo’s (1974: 298) observation that interests groups are in general reacting to policies adopted by the state and will sometime veto measures that are going against there perceived interests rather than being pro-active at the policy-formulation level. 18 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 consensus in the identification of problems and the elaboration of solutions (Anonymous 2003b). 6.1 Windows of Opportunity and Entrepreneurs’ Success According to Kingdon, certain crucial moments create windows of opportunity conducive to political innovation, for instance, when a problem becomes so overwhelming that it can no longer be ignored and forces the search for an appropriate solution or when transformations in the political environment encourage political entrepreneurs to act (Kingdon 1995). The turn of the century appears to offer such a favorable conjuncture for innovation in China’s energy policy. First, the coming to power of a new team with an apparent strong will to reorient the economic development path of China makes the political conjuncture more favorable to the revision of the country’s energy policy. Second, traditional conceptions of energy security were plagued by many problems which seemed insurmountable without a radical change of frame. First, the shortcomings of the diplomatic approach, privileged under the leadership of Jiang Zemin, were illustrated by the dead end reached in Sino-Russian energy cooperation (Xuzheng 2003), by the reluctance of SOOEs to pay for national energy security, by the growing problem of pollution, and by the difficulties of the power sector. These shortcomings have all worn down the persuasion power of the strategic approach followed during most of the 1990s. Second, the fiasco of California’s power sector deregulation, the rapid rise of crude rates on
international markets, and the lack of success in the liberalization of the coal sector in China have greatly shaken the credibility of the market option. Not only is there a political window opened by the perceived failure of traditional frames but, thirdly, solutions to these problems are readily available. Indeed, the “scientific development” frame offers solutions to more than one woe of the Chinese energy sector. Energy conservation and the development of alternative energies can kill three birds with one stone by reducing polluting emissions, developing national resources, and reducing energy consumption. The rhetorical force this frame enjoys is supplemented by the support of political entrepreneurs with direct access to the country’s leaders, as well as by the entire theoretical arsenal developed in the rest of the world around the concept of sustainable development29. Fourth, this frame receives support from major bureaucratic and socioeconomic actors. The State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) is strongly in favor of this conception and of the development of a Green GDP 29 It is interesting to note that Greenpeace figures among the most enthusiastic supporters of the new Chinese approach vis-à-vis energy (Anonymous 2004a). 19 Constantin: Understanding China's Energy Security Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2007 measure, and can also rely on the support of foreign partners in favor of sustainable development. The environment technologies industry, a rapidly growing sector in China, is also strongly behind a transition to a new approach regarding energy issues. All these conditions seem to have aligned to open a window for in-depth reforms of China’s energy policy. Nevertheless, as of today, the Chinese government has not been able to fundamentally reorient the energy policy of the country. In spite of innovations like the adoption of the Law on the Promotion of Renewable Energies, the implementation of new measures aimed at energy conservation and the constitution of a strategic reserve, the principal characteristic of the policy in that sector remains status quo rather than change. If all these conditions converged to be conducive to a major change, how can we explain this inertia? I would like to suggest two hypotheses as a way of concluding. 7. Conclusion: Culture and Institutions One possible line of explanation has to do with the economic culture or the economic identity of the country. If Kingdon stressed the importance of the “national mood” as a key factor of the “political stream”, he implied that it is rather fickle and could vary depending on the government in power. However, it is possible to think that certain, more perennial, elements of national identity or of the economic tradition also have an impact on the persuasive power of these frames (Crane 1996; Dobbin 1994: 2; Hall 1989): those that are very detached from commonly shared references risk meeting difficulties. In that sense, we can understand the attractiveness of the strategic approach for Chinese elites: the Chinese cognitive background gives a primordial place to self-sufficiency. Without even mentioning the millennium worth of autarchic tradition, the birth of the Chinese energy industry was triggered by the withdrawal of Soviet engineers and the end of Soviet exports of crude oil on which the PRC
was dependent for 50% of its needs. This bad experience has, since the discovery of the giant oil field of Daqing which became a Maoist model of self-sufficiency (zili gengsheng), led many Chinese to see foreign investments in the sector and the dependence on international supplies as potentially dangerous. At the same time, many also harbor doubts about new technologies and see them as less reliable or technologically inaccessible for China (Strecker-Downs 2000). The importance of this heritage is manifest in the efforts that advocates of environmental solutions take to reframe in terms of security the benefits of their preferred measures. Beyond self-sufficiency which has become a constitutive element of China’s economic identity, it is possible to treat the Chinese Communist Party as a culture. As such, socialization in the CCP would encourage resorting to certain repertoires of actions and to reject others (Campbell 1997: 22; Geertz 1964). 20 World Political Science Review, Vol. 3 , Iss. 3, Art. 2 http://www.bepress.com/wpsr/vol3/iss3/art2 Indeed, the structures of recruitment of the CCP which emphasize ideological uniformity can strongly play against political innovation (Yasheng, 1996: 101119). Thus, energy measures that could raise energy efficiency —a gas tax for example— can also be construed as destabilizing might find scant support within the Party even if some leaders would be in favor of them. The structure of administrative and political institutions can also explain in part this lack of process. First, even though institutions determine political entrepreneurs’ access to decision-makers, in the case at hand, access does not seem to have been a critical factor. It rather seems that the bureaucratic culture of the NDRC —its rules, routines and standard operating procedures— led to the formulation of measures inspired by past practices: popular campaigns inciting to energy conservation and the exploitation of national resources by public firms, for example. Only measures breaking new bureaucratic grounds have had a certain success as in the case of the Law on the Promotion of Renewable Energies and the creation of a strategic oil reserve. Finally, the administrative capacity of the state could also have limited the echo of the “scientific development” frame on concrete policies. Indeed, the need to develop a battery of new statistical tools seems to have forced a reconsideration of the Green GDP program. Maybe this inability to innovate, can simply be explained by the game of socio-economic interest groups? The big state firms and provincial governments could simply have been opposed to the more innovative measures. In the actual state of the research, it is impossible to reject this hypothesis; yet an explanation based only on interests seems insufficient to explain why certain measures have been adopted whereas others were blocked. Why would the major SOOEs have been able to check the most radical energy conservation measures when powerful public power utilities have not been able to protect themselves from a law that forces them to buy electricity produced from renewable sources at a higher price than traditional fuels? This paper aimed at offering a different point of view on the decisionmaking process in China’s energy policy. I believe that an approach looking for the independent role of ideas can yield superior results to one which takes for
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