resisting international pressure to raise its fuel prices as world energy costs
soar, experts say. While China
continues to subsidize fuel, its oil demand keeps climbing while consumption
falls in much of the industrialized world, according to recent reports.
At a key meeting in Japan
on June 8, China joined India, South Korea, and the G8 group of
industrialized nations in an agreement to boost efficiency and fight rising
clashed over its response to rising prices and failed to coordinate policies
with the G8, which includes the United States,
Britain, Canada, France,
Germany, Italy, Japan,
In a speech to energy ministers, Zhang Guobao, vice minister
of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), refused to budge on
Beijing’s policy of paying Chinese refiners to sell fuel at prices that have
been frozen since last November, while world oil prices have jumped by 50
The rate of inflation is quite high in China. It
worries the government, and they don’t want to do anything to make it worse."
Zhang, who heads China’s Energy
Bureau, rejected the argument against subsidies.
“Decisive factors for oil prices have run beyond the concept
of supply and demand,” Zhang said, according to China’s official Xinhua news
service. Zhang instead blamed market speculation and other factors, including
exchange rates and geopolitics.
regulated gasoline prices are about 38 percent lower than average prices in the
according to data from Reuters and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
fuel prices are also about 40 percent below those in India
and 20 percent cheaper than in Vietnam.
A report this month by the Paris-based International Energy
Agency (IEA) found that China’s
oil demand will rise by 5.5 percent this year to nearly 8 million barrels per
day, more than the previously estimated 4.9 percent.
Other countries in the region have already eased their price
curbs, but “only a large price adjustment in China has the potential to
significantly alter the demand picture,” the IEA said.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Philip Andrews-Speed—a
China energy expert at the University of Dundee
in Edinburgh, Scotland—said
government could allow a modest price hike after the Olympics. But he added, “I
can’t see them rushing to bring it up in line with what’s happening in other
widely expected to keep its price freeze in place through the Olympics and continue
paying subsidies to ensure that its oil companies provide enough fuel for the
events in Beijing.
But Robert Ebel, chairman of the energy program at the Washington-based
Center for Strategic and International Studies—questions whether inflation
fears will prevent the government from allowing higher prices even after the
Last week, China’s
National Bureau of Statistics said that consumer prices rose at a 7.7 percent
annual rate in May, down from 8.5 percent in April but still far above targets.
“The rate of inflation is quite high in China. It
worries the government, and they don’t want to do anything to make it worse,”
also be worried by the example of India, which suffered a wave of
protests after a 10 percent increase in fuel prices in early June.
very much aware of what’s going on in India, and they’re aware that the
same thing could happen in their own country if they’re not careful,” Ebel
said. Social instability remains a major concern for the government,
“I think it would be sensitive about it, even without
looking at India,”
he said. “There are enough social disturbances in China for different socio-economic
reasons that they wouldn’t need an external example to make them very cautious
Experts have urged China for years to target subsidies
toward sectors of society that need them, rather than pay oil companies to
furnish cheaper fuel to all consumers regardless of need. But the government
has been slow to develop systems that can deliver aid to farmers and other
doesn’t have the social security infrastructure to provide what subsidies may
be needed to agricultural workers or the poor who need access to cheap energy,”
“Until such institutions and mechanisms are in place, any
government in China
is going to be reluctant to raise oil prices significantly, I think.”Original reporting by Michael Lelyveld. Edited for the Web by Richard