China’s energy relations with Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia: Discursive politics of energy

  • Author / Creator
    Kuteleva, Anna
  • At the heart of my research is an interest in the interplay between politics and sociocultural contexts in international energy politics. I explore this interplay by examining the development of bilateral energy relations between China and three oil-rich countries – Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia. I put China at the center of my research because China’s case is unique. Just over the past three decades, China experienced an extreme transformation from energy self-sufficient to energy dependent development. From the standpoint of enlightened self-interest, mutual vulnerabilities within the global energy system should be a sufficient pragmatic reason for studying the way China understands oil and constructs its relations with the major energy exporters. Examining China’s relations with Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia, I explain what narratives about oil modern China constructs in international energy relations and how these narratives influence China’s energy choices. I also demonstrate how Kazakhstan’s, Russia’s, and Canada’s interactions with China transform the way these three countries view their own energy wealth. Building my analysis on constructivist and poststructuralist insights, I seek to offer a nuanced perspective of energy politics that captures such variables as social context, intersubjective meanings, and identities. My research is divided into two parts. The first area that I examine is discursive politics of energy. It includes identities and historical narratives about energy resources that are constructed by states to represent themselves and each other in energy relations. The second area of research involves developing a better understanding of how these identities and historical narratives about energy resources are reproduced in energy paradigms. Energy paradigms are my constructivist roadmaps to energy relations: they represent relatively stable systems of norms, meanings, and ideas that shape the way states act in the field of energy relations. In this light, my central research question can be put as follows: How are China’s identities and historical narratives about energy resources constructed, manifested, and enacted in its bilateral energy relations with Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia? To answer this question, I use a discourse analysis methodology. Discourse analysis is preoccupied with what people know about diverse material and social realities and how they articulate this knowledge because its aim is to uncover the ways in which these realities are constructed, negotiated, and interpreted through the processes of social interaction. A structured and systematic intertextual discourse analysis of a heterogeneous collection of texts allows me to achieve two major analytical goals: (1) to reveal the discourses that dominate China’s energy relations with Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia; and (2) to examine how these dominant discourses support and sustain specific interpretations of China’s energy relations with Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia while excluding or rendering marginal others.My analysis demonstrates that China’s energy relations with Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia are simultaneously enabled and constrained by the discursive politics of energy. China’s external energy strategy is crucially dependent on its domestic discursive politics of energy. Hence, to build collaborative and constructive energy relations with China, its partners in Canada, Kazakhstan, Russia, and elsewhere must consider not only material realities of China’s energy industry (e.g. the amount of energy resources available in China, its mining, refining, and storage capacity, and the existing and planned transportation routes) and institutional settings of China’s energy policy (e.g. China’s legal frameworks and the structure of China’s energy government) but also multiple symbolic meanings that energy resources acquire in China. Overall, by examining China’s relations with Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia, my research not only provides a nuanced understanding of energy relations between these individual states but also raises and brings to the fore questions about the social logic of international energy politics in general, offering an important addition to the literature critical of mainstream approaches to international relations and helping to further promote discourse analysis within the discipline.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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