For much of its history, China has made a point of steering clear of other countries’ internal affairs. But that changed late last year, when the Middle Kingdom entered into the international arena in a way it hadn’t before, offering both money and military might to fight the terrors of the Islamic State. More than China’s typical muscle flexing, these actions—like much of the country’s foreign policy in the past decade—can be traced back to a growing trend: an urgent and gluttonous appetite for imported energy, specifically oil.
This raises one of the big, looming questions that will help define relations between Washington and Beijing in the decades to come: As the shape of China’s energy addiction starts to resemble that of the United States, will China’s global role follow suit?
In just a single generation, thanks to unprecedented economic growth, China went from being self-sufficient in crude oil (producing what it consumed) to nearly displacing the United States as the fuel’s biggest importer. In 2014, China imported about 6.2 million barrels per day on average, while the United States took in roughly 7.4 million. In December, Chinese oil imports topped 7 million barrels a day for the first time, while U.S. crude production continued to increase to more than 9 million barrels a day, virtually as high as it has ever been.
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