Sat, Jan 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Gas crisis shows why China is dangerous

By Wu Chih-chung (吳志中)

On Jan. 1, during the coldest time of the year, Russia decided to cut the supply of natural gas to Ukraine.

The effects of this decision were not only felt in Ukraine, but also in other European nations, who had been hoping to mediate in the dispute, urging Russia and Ukraine in the strongest possible terms to come to some sort of understanding on the gas supply. This dispute, after all, threatens Europe's security and economic development.

Ukraine had previously paid Russia less than the market price for the gas supply. The problem started with the Orange Revolution in the winter of 2004, when the people elected a president more sympathetic to the West, who adopted policies that increasingly distanced the country from Russia. It was this situation that led to the decision to ussume such a strict energy policy, as Russia attempted to prevent Ukraine from moving beyond its sphere of influence.

In fact, this conflict will do little for Russian President Vladimir Putin's image in a year in which his country is to host a summit attended by seven other major industrialized nations. The main theme which Russia chose for the summit is none other than energy-supply security issues.

The first problem is that Western Europe relies on Russia for 25 percent of its supply of natural gas, and 80 percent of this is actually routed through Ukraine. As a result, the disruption of Ukraine's supply had a significant impact on Russia's supplies to Western Europe.

Ukraine was only able to hold out for three days before it reached a compromise with Russia, agreeing to a new price, set by Moscow, on Jan. 4. With this, the unit price for natural gas went up from US$50 to US$230, more closely reflecting the actual market price.

From Taiwan's point of view, this illustrates the threat posed to national security by over-reliance on a country with which we have geopolitical disputes.

Despite Ukraine's own geopolitical importance, which stems from the fact that a large part of Western Europe's energy supply runs through its territory, Russia still decided to disrupt the gas supply. Even the damage this would do to Russia's international image, not to mention the impact it would have on the close economic and energy ties it has with other nations, did nothing to make Russian decisionmakers change their minds.

Put another way, it was willing to place its own national interests ahead of geopolitical considerations. Taking this situation to the East-Asian context, we see Taiwan becoming ever more reliant on China.

Taiwan also has some geopolitical importance, as over 85 percent of Japan's crude energy supplies go via the Taiwan Strait and the Bashi Channel, which is controlled by Taiwan.

Nevertheless, if Taiwan does not keep a careful eye on economic and trade policies that are heading more and more in the China's direction, especially when we take into account the nationalist tendencies of that country, we may be facing a serious crisis in the foreseeable future.

Wu Chih-chung is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Soochow University.

TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER

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