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China, oil, Tibet and Xinjiang

This began with me wanting to have a look at China's foreign policy, but that's far too huge a topic to take in one bite. All that you get under the cut is a bit about Xinjiang, Tibet, and oil politics. If you want the rest (or something better-informed), go watch the BBC documentary on China that's showing right now.

Territorial Integrity

China is very concerned that it should not be torn apart as a country, in the manner of the Balkans or the Soviet Union. Sinkiang (Xinjiang) and Tibet could potentially rebel, and Taiwan is still seen by the Chinese government as part of Chinese territory.

The threat posed is not just the loss of these regions, but also the possibility that other parts of China could be inspired to rebellion by events there. Inner Mongolia is one particular threat: unlikely to rebel as things stand now, but it might follow in the footsteps of any rebellion in Xinjiang.

That said, both Xinjiang and Tibet are particularly valuable to China. Xinjiang, in addition to its historical role as a buffer zone, is now China's main site for nuclear tests, and also for some military exercises. More crucially, Xinjiang contains some of China's most promising oilfields, in the Turpan, Junggar and Tarim oil basins, the last of which may contain as much as 147 billion barrels.

Tibet, meanwhile, is the source of much of the water for China and the rest of Eurasia, and possession of Tibet would give China a military advantage in any conflict with India.

Chinese policy, domestic and foreign, is therefore focussed on retaining control of these regions. Internally, it has involved repression of regional feelings, reducing the ability of Islam and Buddhism to catalyse rebellion, and moving other ethnic groups into these regions to water down anti-Chinese sentiment.

Externally, China has tried to isolate potentially rebellious ethnic groups from potential supporters. In the case of Tibet, this is largely confined to cutting the region off from external contact. With Xinjiang, it has involved a slightly more active policy in Central Asia, trying to dampen the Islamic fervour in the Ferghana valley


By now China's thirst for oil is proverbial: once something turns up on the West Wing, you know it's jumped the shark.

But oil really is as important for China as all that. You can see it not just in the Central Asia policy, the deals with Russia, the grand talk of pipelines. It's even bringing the country into Africa,which now provides 25% of its energy imports. Foreign policy is bent to accommodate this need. Last year, for example, China bought some 50% of Sudan's oil production, twisting its policy towards the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. China may offer arms deals in return for oil supplies: Zimbabwe, for example, exports much oil to China, and in 2004 benefitted from a $200m deal to buy Chinese weaponry.

And, for now, that's it. As always, there is the threat of more to come, next time I get my head in gear.