|24 April 2005|
The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, with the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, in Jakarta on Saturday. — Photo: PTI
JAKARTA: India has called for Asia and Africa to end their "anomalous" dependence on Western governments and companies for the buying and selling of oil and gas, saying it was high time the two continents — which include some of the world's largest producers and consumers of energy — evolved a "framework" of their own.
This suggestion — made by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, in his speech to the Asian-African summit here on Saturday — reflects India's growing emphasis on energy diplomacy and is of potentially huge significance for the future of the world's oil and gas industry. "While our continents include both major producers and consumers of energy, the framework within which we produce and consume energy is determined elsewhere," Dr. Singh said, adding, "We must end this anomaly."
Competition for "new oil"
Though buried within the text, the Prime Minister's call for Asian and African Governments to forge direct links in the energy sector is likely to heighten anxieties among Western oil majors about the growing competition for "new oil" from public sector companies in Asia. On Thursday, for example, the CEO of Shell, Jeoen van der Veer, cautioned the new oil producing countries from doing business with state-owned companies from India and China, saying this would make them vulnerable to "interference" by foreign governments.
Dr. Singh's use of the word "framework" is a reference not just to the mediatory role of Western companies as producers, buyers and sellers but also to efforts by Western governments, particularly Washington, to direct the Central Asian and African energy sector, including pipeline routes, away from its most important future consumer — South, South-East and East Asia.
During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India earlier this month, India and China agreed to cooperate in oil extraction activities in third countries, especially in Africa. And the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline is being seen in some quarters as the precursor to a more extensive energy grid that could link up Central Asia with India, China and other parts of East Asia.
Dr. Singh's speech to the Jakarta summit also focussed on other areas of South-South cooperation. Describing the Non-Aligned Movement — which grew out of the 1955 Bandung Conference — as "one of the greatest peace movements ever," he said colonialism and apartheid "have been comprehensively defeated" and most peoples in Asia and Africa have achieved freedom or statehood "barring the brave Palestinian people."
Elusive security order
The world today is more integrated than it was in 1955 but "a cooperative and consensual international security order eludes us," Dr. Singh said.
"Its consequence is insecurity, not common security." That is why "democratisation of the United Nations and its specialised agencies must be a fundamental plank" of the new strategic partnership between Asia and Africa, he added, without going into any specific calls for Security Council reform.
Saying that a "new cooperative global structure is within reach," the Prime Minister stressed the need for Africa and Asia to create "new structures of mutual support, solidarity and cooperation."
It was regrettable, he said, that "South-South linkages have weakened when they are most required."
Responding to the highly favourable assessment of the recent India-Pakistan summit made by the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, at the Jakarta meeting on Friday, Dr. Singh said he appreciated and fully reciprocated those positive sentiments.
"We have embarked upon a journey towards peace and good neighbourly ties [with Pakistan]. ... We are sincere in our desire to resolve all issues in a mutually acceptable manner. This will surely bring benefit to our peoples and region."
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