Oil supplies will play key role in conflict: US report

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

Sat, Oct 19, 2013 - Page 1

Oil and fuel supplies would put “significant constraints” on both China and Taiwan in case of an air war between the two countries, a new report published by the US Council on Foreign Relations said.

“Examining an air war scenario is especially significant because China would have to establish air superiority over Taiwan before any plausible amphibious invasion attempt,” the report said.

Modeling fuel requirements in a war between China and Taiwan has “inherent value” says the 16-page report because the dispute is one of the “few flash points” that could conceivably draw China into conflict with the US.

Written by Rosemary Kelanic, associate director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University, the report relies on a RAND Corp study predicting that China would devote 967 aircraft to a Taiwan air conflict, while Taiwan would deploy 317 aircraft.

China could fuel an air war against Taiwan indefinitely, but only at the cost of slashing civilian jet fuel consumption by as much as 75 percent, the report says.

And that would mean serious reductions in airfreight volumes, as well as in passenger travel, it says.

In a worst-case scenario in which Taiwan could not import petroleum, its demand would have to be met entirely by commercial and government stockpiles.

Sharply aware of its energy vulnerability, Taiwan mandates that the oil industry and government maintain strategic reserves to provide a solid emergency cushion, the report says.

“Taiwan could supply 100 percent of military needs and 100 percent of civilian needs for 152 days,” the report said.

It added that if China was to supply 100 percent of military and civilian needs, government stockpiles would run out in 16 days with total stockpiles being exhausted within 48 days.

To blunt economic disruption, China would probably ration civilian supplies to stretch them out as long as possible.

“A separate and perhaps decisive question is whether Chinese citizens would tolerate it,” the report said, adding that observers often argue that the political legitimacy of the Chinese regime hinges less on nationalism than on the nation’s rapid economic growth.

Although it is unclear how politically destabilizing large declines in prosperity could be, China’s leaders have an incentive to avoid getting stuck between “a military rock and a political hard place.”

The report concludes that military demand for petroleum products during a major conventional conflict is significantly larger than commonly assumed.

“Both China and Taiwan face a tighter wartime fuel supply situation than default assumptions about military consumption would suggest,” the report said.

“If Taiwan could protect its oil refineries and strategic reserves in a war with China, it could meet all of its military and civilian jet fuel needs in an air war for five months — about three times longer than China could,” the report estimated.

However, it says, the vulnerability of Taiwan’s oil facilities to attack potentially undermines this advantage.

“China could produce enough jet fuel indigenously to prosecute an air war with Taiwan indefinitely, but not without risking political consequences to the Communist Party,” the report said.

It says this finding casts a new light on China’s “going out” initiatives to secure petroleum through equity oil arrangements and closer ties with exporters like Saudi Arabia.

“If Beijing truly fears the prospects of a US naval blockade during a war with Taiwan, such efforts are likely to increase,” the report said.