China’s Development Strategy and Energy Security: Growth, Distribution and Regional Cooperation


This paper analyses both global and regional approaches to solving problems of energy security and ecological imbalance by addressing specifically the problems of China’s energy security. China’s growing energy dependence has become a major concern for both economic and national security policymakers in that country. The ambitious goal of modernization of the economy along the lines of the other newly industrialized economies (NIEs) of Asia has succeeded only too well, and it is difficult to reorient economic priorities. If examined rigorously, such an economic strategic assumption can be seen to entail the goal of creating further technological capabilities. In particular, China seems to be firmly committed to the creation of a largely self-sustaining innovation system as part of a knowledge-based economy of the future. Such innovation systems, called positive feedback loop innovation systems or POLIS have been created by advanced countries, and NIEs such as South Korea and Taiwan are proceeding to create these as well. But this will add to its energy burden and further dependence on the US as the power which controls the key sea lanes. Only a strategic reorientation to building a self-sustaining POLIS and appropriate regional cooperation institutions can lead to the way out of the current dilemma for China. Fortunately, such a model of POLIS which is distributionally and ecologically sensitive can be built for China and applied strategically to lead towards a sustainable development trajectory.

However, time is of the essence. Given the path dependence of development, unless strategic disengagement from the existing path followed by a strategic engagement with the alternative strategy is begun within the next five years, it may well be too late. The stakes are indeed very high. A more detailed strategy paper based on the key ideas from the alternative strategy outlined here with concrete quantitative scenarios and feasibility studies along the lines of models sketched in the Appendix (and other, more detailed models) will go some distance towards giving the appropriate analytical foundations for policymakers. Preliminary results confirm the predictions regarding fossil fuel-based energy shortage and lead towards a serious consideration of alternative energy sources. Achieving the twin goals of energy security and ecological balance is challenging but not impossible for China. Serious policy research can be used effectively if there is the political will to do so. The goal of regional cooperation is also achievable if negotiations in good faith can start in earnest. In particular, cooperation with other Asian economies, particularly Japan, Indonesia, Viet Nam and India will be crucial. This paper has sketched out the complexities of cooperation and conflict between China and Japan. Future work will address the problems of regional cooperation for China in the east, south and south Asian context as well as in the context of Africa and Latin America.


Khan, H.A. China’s Development Strategy and Energy Security: Growth, Distribution and Regional Cooperation. UNU-WIDER, Helsinki, Finland (2008) 28 pp. ISBN 978-92-9230-104-0 [WIDER Research Paper No. 2008/56]

China’s Development Strategy and Energy Security: Growth, Distribution and Regional Cooperation

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