The Limits of Transregional Transactions: Northeast Asia’s Nuclear Energy Exports to the Middle East (with Ali Ahmad, in progress)

This paper examines the sources of transregional transactions of nuclear energy between Northeast Asia and the Middle East. It questions whether such transactions could persist amidst geopolitical strife, at a time when the US-China contest in East and Southeast Asia has become vehemently strong, and the collision of geopolitical interests between the two countries may occur in the Middle East as China delves into the region further for economic gains through its Belt and Road Initiative. While Northeast Asia has become the primary customer for Middle Eastern oil and gas, the Middle East has also become an attractive market for Northeast Asia’s nuclear technology sales. The two regions complement each other with their disparate energy mix. China, Japan, and South Korea provide nuclear power plants and transfer nuclear technology to countries in the region, including the UAE, Turkey, Saudi Arabia. China, in particular, has begun feasibility study with Saudi Arabia to build high temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR), in addition to its nuclear power plant projects going on in Pakistan. Nonetheless, whether the transregional transactions of nuclear energy can persist depends largely upon the Middle East’s policy preferences and decision-making toward a) securing future energy dependence and b) accepting the transactions going forward, provided that the Northeast Asian players retain the principles of non-interference. This paper sheds light upon how the two regions view each other as potential markets, explores the nexus of energy transactions on a country-by-country basis, then forecasts whether geopolitical clashes could be of hindrance to the transregional transactions.

China’s Expansion in the Middle East: Power Vacuum, Engagement and Contest in the Divided Region (in progress for submission to Geopolitics)

This article questions whether China’s approach toward the region is purely economic, as articulated in the policy intent of the Belt and Road Initiative. Developing a theoretical framework of power vacuum and the rise of a new player, the article argues that, while Northeast Asian states – Japan, South Korea, and China - have traditionally demonstrated similar economic interests for energy in the Middle East, China not only shows economic interests but also exhibits military interests to fill the power vacuum while the US is gradually losing policy influence in the region. In supporting the argument, the article provides data and content analysis on China’s expansion in the region via infrastructure building and acquisition of ports and increasing military presence in matching locations, connecting the dots between China’s economic and military interests in the Middle East.

Compromise and Losses in Multilateral Negotiations: The Iran Nuclear Deal and the Diminishing Petrodollar Dominance (with Hamoon Khelghat-Doost, revise & resubmit, Middle East Journal)

Does preventing nuclear war guarantee geopolitical stability? This policy essay examines the externalities of the Iran Nuclear Deal, and argues that diplomatic efforts can indirectly facilitate the emergence of other petrocurrencies in the global financial system, thereby causing rifts in the energy trade. The essay investigates the rise of alternative currencies that are gaining leverage as petro states diversify their currencyoptions for oil trade in an effort to decrease its reliance on the US.
Keywords: petrodollar, petrocurrencies, Iran Nuclear Deal, US hegemony

Securing Energy in a Power Vacuum: Northeast Asia’s Varying Strategic Engagement in the Middle East (with Emma Ashford, forthcoming in book volume by Gerlach)

Northeast Asia’s export economies – China, South Korea and Japan – are all increasingly engaging with the Middle East in an attempt to secure their energy needs, a difficult task given the ongoing turmoil in Middle Eastern states from Libya to Egypt to Syria. Attention has typically focused on Chinese energy security needs, in particular on China’s strategic concerns about transit routes. Yet for South Korea and Japan, energy dependence on the states of the Persian Gulf is an even knottier problem. For both states, geopolitical constraints – most notably their close security relationships with the United States – limit the ways in which they can engage in the region. This has pushed them to develop energy and economic relationships primarily with Middle Eastern states that are closely tied to the United States, and to minimize ties with states typically viewed as unfriendly to U.S. interests, or which may be subject to future U.S. sanctions. At the same time, South Korea and Japan are not immune to concerns over the security of energy transit routes; while current U.S. dominance of the Indian Ocean ensures effective transit today, Chinese naval growth remains a concern, and the potential for Chinese disruption of energy transit in the Straits of Malacca or South China Sea exists. This pressure is driving Japan and South Korea to seek diversification of energy supplies outside the Gulf, notably from Russia. For Japanese and South Korean policymakers, ensuring energy security requires a delicate balance between maintaining U.S. alliance ties, and hedging against future transit and supply disruptions by working with U.S. adversaries where necessary. Based on the changing routes of energy imports for Japan and South Korea and their energy consumption trends, this paper explores the two countries’ political maneuvering toward energy security.