China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

Xinjiang’s Energy Resources

Resources buried under Xinjiang account for over 20% of China’s future petroleum reserves, over 40% of its coal reserves, and Xinjiang has potential for large uranium deposits. Recent terrorist attacks and instability in Xinjiang makes it worthwhile to examine just what the Chinese have of interest in the region. Below, I explore the importance of Xinjiang’s security to Beijing’s energy policy. (Examination of a political point-of-view calculation will have to wait until later.)

An Overview of Xinjiang’s Energy Resources

“Xinjiang’s annual oil and gas equivalent output… ranks the first in the country… The third national resources evaluation shows that: Xinjiang’s total oil and natural gas resource reserves exceeded 30 billion tons… Recently, Xinjiang has been producing 75,000 tons of crude oil daily, occupying 14.4 percent of the country’s daily crude oil output. In 2007, Xinjiang’s oil and gas equivalent reached 44.94 million tons” which was the highest production value of all Chinese provinces” (People’s Daily).

“Xinjiang produced 26.4 million tons of crude oil and 21.2 billion cubic meters of gas last year, or 43.3 million tons of oil equivalent, representing a rise of 13.6 percent from 2006. [Note, these estimates differ slightly from People’s Daily’s estimates] As a result, Xinjiang, with estimated reserves of 20.8 billion tons of oil and 10.8 trillion cu m of gas, has been designated as a strategic area to replace Heilongjiang [in the Northeast] in China’s oil industry” (Stephen Blank, Jamestown).

“[B]eneath Xinjiang’s dusty soil and mountainous steppes lies buried 40% of China’s coal reserves. Equally abundant and far more precious to the central government are oil and natural gas deposits that total the equivalent of about 30 billion tons of oil and represent one-fourth to one-third of China’s total petroleum reserves” (Peter Navarro).

* A short, four page report on Xinjiang’s energy potential by the WSI (World Security Institute).

Xinjiang’s Coal

“It is predicted that during the 11th Five-Year Program period (2006-10), in the Zhundong area of eastern Xinjiang, the total installed capacity to be constructed – based on coal resources there – will reach 8.8 million kilowatts, and that of coal-to-methanol, coal-to-olefin, and coal-to-oil projects will total 7.6 million, 1.96 million and 3 million tons respectively. The aforesaid projects are expected to generate sales revenue of some 55 billion yuan (US$7 billion) after going into production… In 2006, raw-coal output in Xinjiang increased by some 3.6 million tons over 2005” (Asia Times).

“In accordance with the region’s 11th Five-Year Program, by 2010 Xinjiang’s raw-coal output is expected to exceed 100 million tons, and its installed capacity to top 10 million kilowatts” (Asia Times). 

Xinjiang’s Natural Gas

“The Tarin Basin alone has proven reserves of over one billion tons of crude and 59 billion cubic meters of natural gas” (Martin Andrew, Jamestown Foundation).

Xinjiang’s Wind

Xinjiang is also home to the Dabancheng wind farm, one of the largest in China, and has potential for much more wind power expansion. And “The Ala Mountain Pass region… will have an installed base of wind farms totaling 1 GW” by 2015 (Renewable Energy World).

“(Although significant power-grid transmission to the East would be a logistical problem to overcome.) “Currently, the total wind power capacity installed in Xinjiang accounts for 20% of nationwide capacity installed… The total capacity is estimated to reach 43.8 million kW, which can generate 1 00 billion kWh of electric power and is nine times of the current electric power generated in Xinjiang” (World Security Institute).

Energy Security and Transportation

* “The 2008 People’s Republic of China (PRC) White Paper on Diplomacy placed energy security as a major centerpiece of the country’s foreign policy…The White Paper specifically emphasized that China is currently the world’s second largest producer and consumer of energy, and therefore an indispensable part of the global energy market, and is increasingly playing a prominent role in ensuring global energy security” (Russell Hsiao, Jamestown).

* “Central Asia can serve as a transshipment area for Middle East oil should war ever break out over Taiwan or China’s various claims for oil reserves in the South China Seas” (Peter Navarro). Pipelines through Xinjiang connect China with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan (2010), and also run through Uzbekistan. It is vital to China’s energy security that these energy pipelines are secured.

* Crude Oil reserve bases are also located in Xinjiang, which will be useful if coastal oil reserves in Zhejiang or Fujian come under fire due to a Taiwan conflict.

* Xinjiang’s vast resources can help China wean itself off of foreign countries’ energy. If developed properly, and if China restrains its energy consumption, the country can continue to possess a modicum of energy independence.


Security of Xinjiang’s resources is central to Beijing’s strategy of becoming a developed nation. Without Xinjiang’s resources, the Chinese would depend even more on the vagaries of the Malacca Strait for transshipment of energy. Russia’s new pipeline into China will help alleviate some of China’s dependence on pipelines through Xinjiang, should said pipelines become plagued by sabotaguge (which is unlikely). Additionally, more energy diversification is planned with expansions of China into Myanmar energy.

Still, China’s domestic energy hub for the future is Xinjiang. Its supply of energy to the rest of the country is disproportionate to its population and its wealth. Because Xinjiang is key, China will continue to be harsh in its crackdowns against splittists, terrorists, and overly zealous religion adherents.

27 August, 2008 Posted by | China Energy, China Future | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Isn’t That Odd? China’s Wind Grid Troubles

In a few hours I’ll post a more indepth article about Chinese wind power; but for this edition of “Isn’t That Odd?” I’ll discuss a little about some results of inefficient bureaucracies in China.

Similar to their counterparts in many state bureaucracies, China’s bureaucrats have a way of dropping the ball.

In January 2008, Reuters pointed out that: “China’s wind power generating capacity surged to 5.6 gigawatts by the end of last year, but over a quarter of it is still not connected to the grid because of bad planning.” With the creation of a National Energy Commission in March 2008, these inefficiencies might disappear, but some people who were hoping for a more comprehensive Ministry disagree.

I wonder if my earlier comment sunk in though, so I’ll repeat it: Over a quarter of wind-generating capacity installed in 2007 is still not attached to the grid- but why? Maybe because as the article goes on to say; “local governments are keen to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon as Beijing pushes greener growth, [therefore] they are approving new wind farms without proper planning.”

Chinese local governments, pursuing directives from the top have long been infamous for making grandiose plans that gain them plaudits from central planners, but don’t actually solve problems that the people are actually facing.

In Great Leap Forward times (1957-1959) local cadres gave “excess” food to the central government for redistribution while their citizens starved, because the cadres couldn’t admit the harvest was weak without admitting failure. In later times, shoddy buildings were constructed and polluting industries flourished because the important thing was the number of people employed, not the quality of the factory, or the buildings. This can have tragic consequences, as demonstrated by the collapses of shoddily-constructed schools as a result of the Sichuan earthquake.

So, in wind too, as in previous pushes toward “self-strengthening,” today’s Chinese government officials are making the same mistake as their predecesors did with the “backyard furnaces” (where steel was smelted en masse, but was of such low quality that all it really contribuited was greater pollution), and the project to eliminate birds (because they ate crops… somehow it was forgotten that insects, which birds eat, can be much more destructive.)

Likely, many of these wind generators are subpar- not up to international standards since the local cadres were more interested in gaining governmental plaudits than in really cleaning up the environment.

Oh well, that’s central planning for you. At least the turbines are there; some will work, and ultimately the cadres who know what they’re doing will (hopefully) be commended. (To take a pollyanna view of the situation.)

The question is, how many incompetent cadres will be reprimanded… But that’s a topic for another article.

13 June, 2008 Posted by | China Energy, China Technology, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment