Geopolitical Economy of Energy and Environment

Kurt Radtke

This book is the result of a Joint Research Program between the Energy Program Asia of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden University, the Netherlands and the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China. It follows earlier publications by the Joint Research Program since 2007.

The book under review contains 11 research papers divided into three sections: The Transnationalization of Chinese-National Oil Companies; Environment, Climate Change and Renewable Energy resources: The European Union and China; and Energy and Geopolitics: The European Union Energy Supply Security and Geopolitics. The informative List of Contributors provides short biographical information and an overview of their research interests and publications.

The first section contains an introduction by Mehdi Amineh (Leiden/Amsterdam) and Yang Guang (Beijing), followed by eight individual contributions by Amineh and Yang, Nana de Graaff, Liu Dong, Sarah Hardus, Chen Mo, Barbara Hogenboom, Sun Hongbo, and Robert Cutler. It focuses on the theory and concepts of the linkage between the energy activities of Chinese oil companies in various parts of the world, including Iran, Iraq, Ghana, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Ecuador, as well as the East Central Eurasian Hydrocarbon Energy Complex involving the role of China, Russia, Kazakhstan and their national oil companies. All contributions include factual overviews and references to theoretical issues, such as the transnationalization of national oil companies, their elites and global networks.

The second section focuses on issues such as environment, climate change and renewable energy resources that play a role in relations between the European Union and China. Four authors cooperated in the first paper – Joyveta Gupta, Eric Chu, Kyra Bos, and Tessel Kuijten – on geo-ecological risks of oil investments by China and the Global South, while Li Xiaohua's paper discusses cooperation and conflicts between China and the European Union member states in renewable energy fields on the basis of a case study of the photovoltaic industry.

The third section looks at the implications of topics treated in this book for the geopolitical economy of energy security in the European Union, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Region, and China in a paper jointly written by Amineh and Wina Crijns-Grauss.

There have so far been many publications on the main theme of the book, the geopolitical economy of energy and environment, that focus on the economic and strategic implications for the United States and Japan, and others that deal with the role of Russia (and the former Soviet Union). This book forms a welcome addition through its focus on Eurasia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Energy issues are one of the factors that can have a decisive impact on the geopolitical structure of Eurasia due to their impact on the structure of relations between China, Russia and the European Union, a topic of vital interest to the global role and strategy of the United States as well. This book is also an attempt to add more European, Chinese, and Latin American research to the existing literature, dominated by authors working in the United States, and publications in the English language. The bibliography also includes a selection of publications in Chinese and Spanish. As is the case with other joint research projects involving China it appears that Chinese authors sometimes seem to be reluctant to include more references to the vast relevant literature available in Chinese, perhaps assuming that non-Chinese readers are unlikely to consult them. Research on ‘energy and the European Union’ should also include more publications in European languages other than English – due to its economic role publications in German, of which only a small part is translated into English, should not be neglected either. The same may be said of research in other member states of the European Union.

The issue of ‘language’ certainly has wider implications, including wider issues of conceptualization, theories, and methodology. Publications in English may not necessarily reflect the full implications of theoretical approaches obtaining in the countries under consideration. Such restrictions are not necessarily ones imposed by any particular political and economic discourse.

‘Geopolitical economy’ is one aspect of a geopolitical approach, of which Halford Mackinder is one well-known representative. Even though Mackinder (and Alfred Mahan) are no longer widely known as they were in the United States and Great Britain roughly a century ago, the geopolitical approach has exercised a deep impact on strategic thinking in the Soviet Union and China until the present day, and also on Japanese strategic thinking before 1945.[1] This reviewer regrets that the editors decided to place information on theoretical issues such as geopolitics in very long footnotes, such as on page16 and pages 29-30, and not in the main text.

The comprehensive index does not give page numbers for terms such as Geo-economics, Geopolitical economy, Geopolitics, and Geo-strategies. China's ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative has been referred to by Chen Mo (page 155), but is not listed in the index. Publicly announced in 2013, becoming very prominent since 2016, it should have been given more attention, also given the fact that Mackinder's ‘The Geographic Pivot of History’[2] includes predictions for Eurasian development that read like a general blueprint for the One Belt, One Road initiative.

These remarks should however not distract from the high quality of research in the contributions to this book, presenting factual information as well as analyses of economic and political strategies by governments and oil companies that encompass major regions of strategic importance not only to the great powers, but also the economies and societies of countries that may not directly participate in the ‘great games’ of the major players.

[1]     The Chinese terms are 地缘学 and 地缘政治学. On the latter, see Sadao Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013.
[2]     H. J. Mackinder, The geographic pivot of history, Geographic Journal 23(4), 1904: 421-37.