China tries straddling fence with Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao during their meeting in Beijing on Aug. 8.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: A six-way security meeting in Central Asia wouldn't ordinarily get much attention. Unless two of the participants were named Russia and China and the invasion of Georgia was on the list of talking points. At just such a meeting today Russia got tepid support from its Asian allies. Leaving China stuck in the middle.

From Shanghai, Marketplace's Scott Tong explains.


SCOTT TONG: China is trying to straddle the fence when it comes to Russia. On one hand, it can't openly endorse Moscow and its backing of Georgian separatists.

Mikkal Herberg is with the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Mikkal Herberg: The Georgia issue for the Chinese really smacks of rewarding a secessionist movement. And China is extremely sensitive about national unity, infringement of sovereignty and secessionist movements.

Movements like breakaway Tibet.

But on the other hand, China can't offend Russia or its Central Asian allies also at today's summit. All those countries want what China wants -- oil and gas -- and the world is running out of places with energy potential.

Here's economist Kang Wu of the East-West Center in Honolulu.

Kang Wu: The growth area will be Middle East, Russia, Central Asia, Africa, and that's it. Other areas are declining: Latin America is declining, U.S.

That reality has China investing billions in pipelines across the former Soviet Union. The hope is they'll bring large amounts of oil from Siberia and Kazakhstan, and natural gas from Turkmenistan.

David Zweig is with the Hong Kong University for Science and Technology. He says China is trying to diversify its sources.

David Zweig: China relies greatly on the Middle East, which is relatively unstable, so it would like to find greater political stability. And sees the pipeline as an alternative to bringing oil across the high seas.

The fact is China has to go where the available hydrocarbons are: Sudan, Iran, Venezuela. Beijing takes heat for all those dealings. And the risk is Russia could become its next messy entanglement.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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