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The Politics of Energy: The BRI's Role in Energy Development

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


As China continues to rise, so does its energy usage, dependencies, and vulnerabilities. These complicated relationships are deepened by the ever changing challenges of foreign policy implementation and heated geopolitical environments—namely with the Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) expands across multiple continents. The BRI is expected to operate throughout the Middle East (Middle East Institute)

What is the BRI? The BRI is China’s strategic initiative to develop infrastructure and greater connectivity with countries connected to China by both land and sea—known as The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Economically, the BRI is designed to increase economic integration across regions and continents, and advantage Chinese state-owned enterprises. Based on its current rate of development, the BRI’s size and scope gives it the potential to increase global gross domestic product by as much as $7.1 trillion by 2040, reach over 70 states, and reduce global trade costs by 2.2 percent. Geopolitically, the BRI is designed to stabilize China’s frontier regions and strengthen its diplomatic influence in Eurasia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.

The BRI and Energy. The BRI strives to promote regional economic growth in regions that may threaten Chinese security, ensuring China can slowly reduce its reliance on the Malacca Strait by developing more land-based energy pipelines, and provide countries with essential infrastructure projects and intertwine developing states’ economies and politics with China. These pipelines are an important aspect of the BRI’s design to secure energy resources. The BRI has led to the signing of energy-related agreements between Chinese and the Gulf states. For example, in 2014 and while visiting China, the Emir of Qatar signed a strategic partnership with China—including a focus on energy production. Additionally, through collaborations with the United Arab Emirates, China has been establishing financial regulatory frameworks that will expand cross-regional activities of the BRI in the Persian Gulf. China has established a high-level joint committee with Saudi Arabia that includes a sub-committee on the BRI, while also advocating for a Free Trade Agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council. The warming of Chinese relations in the Middle East has opened the door for Chinese companies to be crucial players in energy development and distribution. In March 2017, for example, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) signed a one-year contract with Aramco that would supply crude oil for the Huizhou refining projects. Chinese companies have also been involved in multiple construction projects, including the Duqm Port and in railway construction. These investments serve as a critical foundation for the Chinese Communist Party’s strategic calculation to develop more effective routes for China’s trade and energy security.


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