"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Forced out of Tts Shell

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 02/28/2006

In the decade ahead, dependency on energy imports will decisively drive China’s foreign-policy strategy. In turn, energy supplies have become the biggest risk and potential wild card in projecting the nation’s growth and stability.

From 2001 to 2004, China’s energy consumption rose at a yearly average of almost 10 per cent, hitting 15 per cent in 2004. While last year’s figures have yet to be published, expect the pattern to continue: China’s average annual growth in energy consumption is outpacing both its gross domestic product and industrial development.

This reliance on energy imports will force China to adopt a more active foreign-policy strategy, markedly different from the past approach of taoguang yanghui – or, keeping out of the limelight and avoiding conflict. That policy of avoidance was initiated by former leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, when the mainland needed time and space to strengthen its internal economic development. Beijing’s foreign policy in the 1980s and 1990s focused on securing foreign inbound investment, as former president Jiang Zemin maintained Deng’s policy. Energy imports were not yet such a visible problem.

The invasion of Iraq has changed the situation. Beijing’s initial low-key reaction to it seemed out of touch. Newly inaugurated Premier Wen Jiabao spoke insistently about the United Nations serving as the appropriate channel for solving international conflicts, even as rockets from unilateralist crusaders pummeled Baghdad. Many diplomatic observers speculated about China’s inability to take a stance on the international scene, wondering if it was ducking its responsibility out of economic self-interest. Now economic self-interest is changing that.

We can expect two characteristics to emerge. First, Beijing will quickly develop close relations with energy-producing nations. Second, it will reluctantly find itself drawn into multilateral diplomatic efforts to avert crises that are being instigated by more aggressive powers.

A new emphasis will be placed on ties with nations that were overlooked during the Deng-Jiang years. Closer relations will be sought through stronger economic cooperation and other measures, in regions including Latin America, Central Asia and the Middle East. The process has already begun: witness Beijing’s new strengthening of connections with Venezuela and Bolivia because of their oil and natural gas.

The new strategy will inevitably involve China in social and political issues in other regions, including questions of economic reform and sustainable development. It will become involved in shoring up the stability of other nations to ensure its own security. It may find itself funding other nation’s social relief, economic development and even political institution-building.

Beijing will be forced out of its head-in-the-sand view of the world, and become assertive in preventing international conflicts elsewhere. It may become a peace broker in volatile regions such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Central Asia, to safeguard energy supplies. Iran is the most obvious immediate challenge. Oil makes up a large proportion of the US$10 billion annual China-Iran trade. Under new commitments by Beijing to purchase 10 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas over the next 25 years, that trade is expected to leap to US$100 billion a year.

If a certain country is contemplating a unilateral military attack against Iran’s nuclear energy facilities, it will severely affect China’s energy supplies. This gives Beijing a vested interest in promoting peace in the Middle East.

In many respects, it is in a unique position to broker dialogue. North Korea is the first real example where it has risen to play this role. Will Iran be the next test?

Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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