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China's Need for More Oil

December 17, 1985

With respect to China's oil situation (Times, Nov. 5), "China Offshore Oil 'Boom' a Bust," it is becoming rapidly apparent that China will be following an energy development trajectory not unlike our own. Indigenous oil resources in both countries are inadequate to meet present and likely demand. Coal and hydro resources have become as necessary as China's development as they were to the United States when it began rapid electrification under the New Deal.

China has also discovered that it will need commercial nuclear energy. The United States has responded cautiously in light of its entirely appropriate concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation. However, recent U.S. policies have been driven by the realization that we no longer have a lock on the technology. If the United States wants to exercise some control, it must be a player in this market.

There is another important reason to assist China in all aspects of its energy development. Consider what happens when China's economic development starts to take off. If the average Chinese increased their energy consumption to one-fourth that of the average American, China would require the equivalent of two-thirds of the entire world's oil production. The rest of the world obviously benefits if China can produce that energy domestically and does not compete for the world's oil supply.

Given the disappointing results of offshore oil exploration, nuclear energy may become an increasingly important facet of Chinese energy planning. Clearly, the technology could not be put to a more peaceful purpose than fueling the economic growth and raising the standard of living for a nation that has one-fourth of the world's population.

S.S. MARSDEN JR.

Stanford

Marsden is a professor of petroleum engineering at Stanford University.

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