A prominent Democratic senator said on Wednesday that a US failure to cooperate with China on finding alternative energy sources puts two powerful militaries on a collision course over dwindling world oil reserves.
Senator Joseph Lieberman said it's urgent for both countries to talk about cooling down their quest for oil and avoid the military friction that search might cause.
"We've got to start those discussions before the race for oil becomes as hot and dangerous as the nuclear arms race between the US and Soviet Union," Lieberman said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"These are two nations following quite similar international oil acquisition policies ... If we let it go, this could end up in real military conflict, not just economic conflict," he said.
Lieberman was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000, when US President George W. Bush defeated Al Gore. He is one of five Democrats who worked with majority Republican lawmakers on a bill that seeks to reduce dependency on foreign oil by championing alternative energy sources, including hybrid electric cars.
China, Lieberman said, has scoured the world in an effort to lock up energy supplies, signing oil deals with, among other countries, Sudan and Iran, which "makes China an ally of nations that are openly hostile with us."
China is also building a strong navy, he said, both to intimidate Taiwan and to defend its oil supply lanes. And Beijing's regional competition for oil and gas with Japan puts it at odds with a strong US ally, he said.
"All of this is aggressive but, from the Chinese point of view, quite logical behavior for a nation dependent on oil to continue the vigorous economic growth that's necessary to bring more and more of the well over a billion Chinese into the modern economy," Lieberman said. "China, bottom-line, needs assured access to ... sources of oil."
William Martin, a former US deputy secretary of energy, said that China also frets about US competition over oil, especially after US lawmakers, worried about the possibility of compromized national security, helped scuttle a Chinese state-controlled company's attempt to buy a US oil company this summer.
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