Economy

How A Changing Global Energy Equation Could Leave China In The Cold

Shanghai, the largest city in the world's biggest energy consumer
Shanghai, the largest city in the world's biggest energy consumer
Yu Huapeng

BEIJING - A new study published by the National Academy of Economic Strategy (NAES) finds a global energy market that is in the midst of major changes. China, in this context, is facing both opportunities and challenges; in particular, there are concerns about China’s energy security brought on by shifts in the sector in North America.

The global energy market is undergoing three major changes. First, the diversification of the oil supply. With huge oil reserves and production growth in North Africa and Latin America and the development of unconventional oil and gas resources in North America, the three global oil-exporting centers will be the Middle East, North America, and Africa. Second, with increasing oil consumption in Asian countries, competition among oil producers from African and Latin American emerging countries will be rife. Third, the development of new energy sources from shale oil, gas and tar sands alters the balance of power between energy-producing countries, so energy trade disputes will intensify.

As the report pointed out, the relationship between North American countries and global energy trade regions has undergone major changes in recent years – in particular in the United States, where dependence on foreign oil and gas has decreased. This has created new issues for China’s energy security. If China and America’s interdependence in strategic trade sectors such as coal, petrol and gas can be increased, it will help the two big powers avoid a comprehensive strategic competition.

“There are mainly two types of friction in the China-U.S. energy relationship. One of them is that when Chinese oil and gas companies try to acquire American companies, they face political obstruction. Another is that America has repeatedly launched anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations over the wind power and solar photovoltaic power generation equipment exported by China. Since China hasn’t yet acquired market economy status in the World Trade Organization, China is in a disadvantageous position during the trade dispute resolution process,” writes Professor Zha Daojiong of Peking University, one of the authors of the study.

As the world’s biggest energy consumer, China is one of the most interested parties in the global energy market, as Shi Dan, vice-director of the NAES points out. In recent years, China’s dependence on foreign oil has reached nearly 60%, while for natural gas, it’s close to 30%. It has also become the world’s largest net coal importer.

The geopolitics of oil

As China bypasses the United States as the largest energy consumer, it needs to establish good relations with countries in the international energy business while safeguarding its national interests at the same time. As China rapidly expands its foreign energy investments, it must also carefully manage its relationships with the energy producing countries. In addition, China is faced with an unprecedentedly complex international context. Though its international standing has gone up in the global energy market, it is also subject to more challenges and pressures.

The study also noted that Central Asia and Russia, as well as Africa and the Middle East are China’s strategic regions for energy imports. China must have different strategic approaches for each of these regions. In Central Asia and Russia where China’s relations are politically cold and economically hot, things have to change. China must also work to strengthen economic and trade relations with Africa so as to raise the competitiveness of its investments in Africa. And because of the political instability in the Middle East, it has to handle the situation with political and diplomatic wisdom, while dealing as with the multi-lateral relationships between China, the Middle East and the United States.

Meanwhile, changes in the Asia-Pacific region are bringing more uncertainty to China's energy security. With an optimistic economic development perspective in Asia, the region’s energy consumption will continue to grow, especially in the large energy-consuming countries like China and India, as well as Japan and South Korea. Energy import demand may exacerbate regional competition for the energy market.

However, tense relations in the Asia-Pacific region are not conducive to energy cooperation. Territorial disputes, combined with outside influences, deepen the distrust within the region and could be disrupt the for the energy supply, which is sensitive to the political context.

The U.S. sanctions against Iran have also aggravated the problem of energy supply – China and India are Iran's top two oil customers. As China’s third largest source of crude oil, Iran is of strategic importance. Meanwhile, as a consequence of the changes brought on by energy sector reforms after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, China must work to strengthen its energy relationship with Latin America, in order to raise its bargaining ability in the global resource game.

Though Latin America cannot guarantee the security of China's overall energy supply, nevertheless, Chinese oil companies’ participation in the region’s energy market has multiple strategic significances. In addition to the diversification of China’s crude oil imports, it can also enhance economic and trade relations with Latin America as well as affecting the global energy market and thus indirectly increasing China’s chips on the table.

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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