Energy for Asia
Asian nations convene to talk energy
By DING ZHITAO
Energy was on everyone’s mind at the Third Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), held in China’s eastern coastal city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, on June 21-22. Hashing out a common strategy for securing energy for all ACD member countries was the top priority.
In a keynote speech at the seminar on cooperation and development in Asia, held prior to the foreign ministers’ meeting, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai pointed out, “We cannot afford to shy away from the hard decisions on managing our energy resources. We need to accept reality that we no longer live in an era of cheap oil prices. We need to look long term and develop our resources.”
Due to the rising awareness of cooperation, the organizers said that this year’s seminar provided a timely occasion to build upon the recommendations on energy security posed at previous meetings, which Bahrain and the Philippines hosted, respectively.
World crude oil prices have been surging since last year and currently stand near $40 per barrel. Developing countries in Asia are worried that rising oil prices may negatively affect regional economic growth. Asia is an important player in the global energy market as it is home to some major energy producers and consumers.
Sustained and stable energy supply is fundamental to Asian economies and way of life there. This constitutes a common objective regarding their national energy strategies. This year’s ACD meeting provided much needed political impetus in this regard.
Cooperation in the field of energy is the first step to meeting the demand for energy in ACD countries.
“Enhanced energy cooperation is necessary to safeguard Asian energy security and promote economic development in all countries,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told the opening ceremony of the ACD Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Wen added that China was open to energy dialogue and cooperation with other countries in Asia and the world at large on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
According to Kassymzhomart Tokaev, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, the planned oil pipeline project between Kazakhstan and China will make the latter a major trading partner of his country. He expects trade volume between the two countries to reach $10 billion within three years.
Seeking fuel alternatives, ACD members hope to reduce dependency on oil and other natural resources, minimize instability in the oil market and better conserve and manage fossil fuels. The prevailing thought in Asia has come to be that supplemental sources of power will secure an energy supply without further depleting limited resources or irreparably devastating the environment. Cooperation in developing more efficient, renewable and alternative fuels as well as improving the energy infrastructure were also discussed.
China, Japan and the Republic of Korea have shown interest in cooperation with Southeast Asia to develop automobiles and engines that burn bio-fuel, produced from tropical plants such as the cassava and oil palms, which is suitable to grow in the latter’s region.
While Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said his country emphasizes cooperation in developing renewable energy resources such as solar, biogas and hydropower but that apparently does not rule out buying conventional fuels from former Soviet republics, as many are doing. “We are actively pursuing other initiatives such as gas pipelines from Central Asia,” said Kasuri, adding that available energy resources should be utilized efficiently and “fairly” so as to leave some for coming generations.
Building strategic oil reserves is one option in building a country’s boldness in its energy strategy. Many Asian countries are devising oil reserve plans. China, for example, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, has reserves that would last only a week. That country is now working on 70-75-day strategic reserves distributed in four locations, said an energy expert attending the seminar that preferred not to be identified. Regional strategic oil reserves have a psychological effect on stabilizing oil prices, providing a well that could be tapped into when other oil producers cut output, said the expert. But he added major oil producing ACD members, like Indonesia, might not be comfortable with the idea.
Differences are unavoidable in such a huge and diverse region. Despite this, ACD nations agree on the principle of cooperation in energy security. The Qingdao Initiative, the outcome of the first ACD event in China, can be seen as an initial step forward. The document proposes the establishment of a regular energy forum to discuss and cooperate in energy issues, while encouraging greater emphasis on renewable energy.