Beijing wants to minimize its exposure to an American blockade of Burmese oil.
"Shwe [field] is nothing to them, but crude oil coming in through Burma is very significant," an expatriate Burmese now working in Alaska as a consultant on a natural gas project, Sein Myint, said. "The Chinese are always thinking about oil security and a pipeline across Burma puts Burma in a very important strategy position."
Currently the supertankers that carry crude oil to China ply a roundabout course through congested shipping lanes before arriving to China’s coast. The pipeline would drastically cut short that journey by allowing tankers to unload crude in the Bay of Bengal near Burma’s Western coast. Besides cutting down on shipping costs, the shortcut diminishes China’s reliance on the Straits of Malacca, which narrow to 1.5 miles and separate Malaysia from Sumatra.
About 80% of China’s oil imports pass through this lane, which is easily closed and frequented by American warships. An overland route for oil requires more than laying pipe. Burma’s Western coast lacks a deep water port to accommodate oil tankers. A likely candidate would be the island of Ramree, where Burmese energy officials have long wished to place a refinery capable of handling sour crude from the Middle East.
Where is the US? A dog looking in the window as Beijing buys Burmese oil. Even the US Navy seems to be one step behind the ball.