From Nigeria to Iraq, from Kuwait to Kazakhstan, the implications of the world's demand for oil, and its related supplies of natural gas, have continued to drive the political schisms of most of the 20th century, and still into the early 2000s.
But the world, including China, has a much more serious resource-deficit on its hands, which will generate the maps of future conflict – water.
The challenge of balancing an increase in demand, with a reduction in usable supply, may prove to be one of the most constraining factors for the Chinese double digit growth economy for the next 20 or more years.
China is still a major agricultural economy at heart with over 60 per cent of its productive land still given over to farming.
A recent China government survey identified that the nation uses 360 billion cubic metres of water each year – of which agriculture uses 65 per cent – nearly all of which it spills on to the ground as irrigation through the flooding of the fields.
Historically, with 40 per cent of its land mass mountains and hills, with prodigious rainfall and major flood-plain outlets, there was no problem for China.
But national surveys identify major drops in river water volume; the major Yellow, Yangtze, Huai and Hai rivers alone have dropped by 20 per cent to 40 per cent in recent years.
The estimated costs of this are calculated to be $12 billion for the industrial economy.
No wonder then, that major infrastructure projects, such as the notorious Three Gorges Dam, on the upper Yangtze near Chongqing, have been national priorities.
That city – already with 30 million people and still growing – has recognised the urgency of these statistics for its ongoing environmental management.
Nearly $500 million is being spent on urgent waste water recycling, through the immediate construction of 20 major water treatment plants in the area, with all the associated solid waste effluent treatment units.
Yet to come, is another $5 billion Government and World Bank investment to build 150 new waste water/solid effluent plants in the whole Upper Yangtze region by 2009.
With 3,000 factories and quarries discharge over one billion tonnes of effluent every year into the Yangtze and its feeder tributaries, this is vital.
Another billion tonnes come from the city effluent itself – often traditionally untreated. An estimated 9,000 tonnes of lead, mercury and other long term bio-pollutants are then added to the mix each year.
The makings of a major disaster.
The good news is that with help from the West Midlands – through companies like Mott McDonald, Ove Arup, GEC Alstom, Biwater and others – the change is beginning to happen.
The national government of China has recently declared Chongqing to be its major model and case study for environmental management and regeneration for the whole of the country.
A seminar is taking place later this month (April) to examine the contribution that can be made by British large and small, expert businesses, to turn this apocalyptic scenario around.
The Construction University of Chongqing, and the city's strategic government officials, will meet with a British delegation led by the Chartered Institute of Building and The Links Centre.
If water is to be the essential element over which conflict will arise into the mid 21st century – China is seriously addressing its issues, and offering major opportunities for relevant Birmingham region businesses to offer their assistance and develop their own export potential.
* The Links Centre is at www.thelinkscentre.com