India–China Energy Geopolitics

Date01 January 2015
Published date01 January 2015
Subject MatterArticles
India–China Energy
Geopolitics: Dominating
Alternative Energy
Market in Pacific Asia
Nandakumar Janardhanan1
Energy geopolitics, marked by competition and rivalry in the global search for
petroleum fuels, has been one of the defining elements in the bilateral energy
engagement of India and China. In the last decade, the international energy market
witnessed fierce race among the two as they competed for overseas petroleum
resources. Unlike the politics over the search for petroleum resources witnessed
in the last decade, the new energy geopolitics reflects the competition of these
two countries as they seek to expand their influence in the alternative energy
sector of the developing Asian economies. Investment, technology transfer and aid
to develop new energy resource are some of the key economic and diplomatic
tools the two countries use to expand their reach. This article focuses on the
Sino-Indian competition in the alternative energy space in developing Asia, and aims
to understand the level of success the two countries witness in this emerging
geopolitical engagement.
Energy geopolitics, non-conventional energy, alternative sources, renewable
energy, energy security, Sino-Indian relations
Throughout human history, the foundations of civilizations have rested heavily on
their energy supplies (Willrich, 1978). Energy plays an important role in the eco-
nomic development and that securing energy supply has been national priority for
fuel import-dependent countries. In the international arena, energy as a security
International Studies
52(1–4) 66–85
2017 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881717721757
1 Energy Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi,
Corresponding author:
Nandakumar Janardhanan, Energy Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi, India 110067.
Janardhanan 67
concern was more of an after-effect of the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The supply
shortages and the subsequent quadrupling of oil price have had long-lasting
impacts on the global economic scenario. The Western countries that were largely
dependent on imported supply from the Persian Gulf realized that critical strategic
measures need to be taken to ensure the supply security. However, today the coun-
tries across the world are focusing on diversification of energy supply. Global
energy mix has been increasingly witnessing greater share of non-fossil fuels.
While many leading energy consumers in Europe have made notable level of
transition to cleaner energy mix, countries in developing Asia are on a clear path-
way towards developing a basket of fuels with diverse set of energy sources.
The growing policy attention gained by the alternative energy sector was an
outcome of three factors. First, the global efforts to reduce energy-related emis-
sion led fossil fuel dependent countries to promote energy transition domesti-
cally. Countries like India and China being major developing economies and
having huge energy appetite focused heavily on strengthening their respective
alternative energy sector. Second, the over reliance on conventional fossil fuels
also posed various economic challenges to fossil fuel importing countries.
Energy diversification emerged as significant policy tool to enhance the alterna-
tive energy sources to minimize the energy import bill incurred due to conven-
tional petroleum sources. Third and the most important factor that shaped energy
policy in favour of alternative energy sources has been the security concerns
associated with the external supplies of fossil fuels. While India depends on
external oil supplies to meet two thirds of its oil demand, one third of oil demand
in China is met by imports. As a result of the focus given on energy transition,
renewable energy sector and other advanced energy technologies have gained
great momentum in these two countries. As innovation and development began
to lead the growth of alternative energy sector, opportunities for expansion within
their respective borders as well as outside emerged as promising avenues for the
industry from both countries.
Two definitions are important to highlight as the key focus in this article. First,
the article uses the term Pacific Asia to denote the countries in the regions of
South Asia and Southeast Asia together. The fast-growing alternative energy
industry in India and China has been making their presence in this region. The
energy shortage faced by these countries has been hindering their economic
development, leading them to look for support countries like India and China
which are relatively in better economic status within the region. India and China
provide promising alternative to these smaller economies in terms of geographical
proximity and for being suppliers of affordable technology compared to any
developed Western economies.
Second, the article uses the term ‘alternative energy’ to indicate a mix of non-
conventional fuel sources that include various new and renewable energy
resources (see Figure 1). Though the list of non-conventional energy sources also
include non-conventional hydrocarbon sources (such as shale, coal bed methane,
etc.) and advanced energy technologies (such as fuel cells, hydrogen, ‘carbon
capture and sequestration,’ etc.), the focus in this article is more on the new and
renewable energy sector as that is relevant to the discussions conducted here.

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