Learning from Failure: China’s Overseas Oil Investments

Susana Moreira

Abstract


Thirsty for oil and other raw materials needed to fuel its breakneck development, China is funnelling money and manpower into an expanding number of countries in order to secure access to natural resources. This effort has successfully increased Chinese oil assets overseas but it has also exposed Beijing and Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) to significant risks. The present paper focuses on one type of risk – political risk – and how it has affected China’s global quest for oil since 1993. It starts with a brief overview of political risk. It then looks at political risk management as applied to the oil industry in general. The paper continues with a discussion of the political risk management of Chinese national oil companies over time. This includes a concise exam-ination of several instances in which the interests of Chinese NOCs have been undermined due to political risk and the shortcomings in the approaches of Chinese NOCs to political risk. Recent developments suggest that Chinese NOCs are learning from these mistakes and adjusting their strategies accordingly. Although progress toward these readjust-ments has been made, China’s own socio-political context is still hampering the ability of Chinese NOCs to deal with on-the-ground realities that are clearly much more unstable than China’s own.

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