- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — China wants to start direct negotiations with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to secure a stable oil supply and an equitable share of the oil market, a top official said yesterday in comments that emphasized the Chinese economy’s rapidly growing energy needs.

Zhai Jun, China’s assistant minister of foreign affairs, told conference participants in Dubai that his country was trying to develop “a negotiating mechanism with OPEC.”

“Only through this can we maintain security and stability of our oil imports,” Mr. Zhai said at the Arab Strategy Forum.

Soaring demand in rapidly industrializing China is considered one of the chief causes of higher oil prices in the past two years. China is the world’s third-largest oil importer, behind Japan and the United States.

Mr. Zhai, speaking in Chinese, appeared to refer to another cause for higher prices: instability in oil-producing countries such as Iraq and Nigeria. He said China wants to step up efforts to end strife that destabilizes the oil marketplace.

“We need to eliminate these hot-spot issues,” he said.

China is an increasingly big consumer of raw materials and has been seeking a greater voice in pricing of several commodities. The country, which Mr. Zhai said imports 6 percent of the crude traded globally, has been setting up strategic oil reserves and aggressively seeking new suppliers in Africa and South America to help diversify its crude supply. Mr. Zhai termed it the “global race for energy.”

“China’s influence is growing in the Arab world,” he said.

He said the Asian giant was opening its energy sector to outside investment and looking to cooperate with foreign partners across its oil sector. Mr. Zhai said the country was looking for more formal ties with OPEC, but he didn’t elaborate.

“Currently we’re making preparations to establish a dialogue mechanism with oil producers,” the Chinese diplomat said. “We want to participate as much as possible in some of the big decision processes on the world stage.”

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