China's out shopping, and this economic dragon's buying everything it can lay its claws on. From automakers to agrochemical manufacturers, the world's most populous nation is trying to make deals across the globe.

It seems like a huge number of big mergers and strategic acquisitions lately have some connection to China. The resource-hungry nation has closed big deals across many industries, and it's marching like an unstoppable force in its pursuit of natural resources.

China's hunger for assets is primarily well-known in the energy sector. The country's energy industry has already made international deals worth nearly $50 billion in the last two years. Now, China is focusing on encompassing developed energy markets as well.

Eyeing the West
Chinese oil giants PetroChina (NYSE: PTR) and CNOOC (NYSE: CEO) are shifting their attention toward regions such as the United States and Canada. PetroChina is buying a 50% stake in Canada-based Encana's (NYSE: ECA) shale gas project for $5.4 billion -- the largest Chinese investment in a foreign natural gas asset so far. Meanwhile, CNOOC struck a shale deal with Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) for $570 million in January.

However, there has been a slight change of stance in the way these companies approach these deals. Instead of making aggressive bids as in the past, they are now focusing on buying stakes that are smaller, but more strategic and less likely to raise the concerns of native regulators. For example, rather than buying an entire company, the international arm of China Petroleum & Chemical (NYSE: SNP), also known as Sinopec, is spending $4.65 billion for a 9% stake in Syncrude, a unit of ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP). All of this leaves us with an apparent question to chew on: Why are Chinese companies so desperate to expand abroad?

Palpable intent
Chinese companies benefit from expansion abroad in many ways. First, these deals will allow the Chinese companies to reap the benefits of shale technology -- supposedly a boon for the North American oil companies in the years to come. Not unlike Chinese aeronautical firms who are working with General Electric (NYSE: GE) on joint ventures for aircraft systems development, Chinese energy firms will eventually reap the benefits of technological know-how when Western technology is brought back to China for domestic use. Without such assistance, that process could take years and billions of dollars. This can actually turn things around for the Chinese energy sector, which is absolutely in need of a categorical boost.

Political stability is another factor influencing the companies' decision. Canadian and American energy assets are a far safer bet than politically unstable areas such as Sudan or Venezuela, where the Chinese have already made large commitments. It looks like a calculated move on the part of the Chinese to secure a foothold on the North American continent; they can both gain access to promising technology, and explore that technology and their newfound assets in relative peace.

Unraveling a bitter truth
The underlying reality fueling this larger asset binge is one disturbing reality for China's leaders: China's domestic oil production is way too insufficient to meet native demand. The country is already the world's second-largest oil consumer. Domestic output -- around 4 million barrels a day -- doesn't meet even half of China's massive, ceaseless demand. And the country's robust economic development is only increasing its reliance on imports.

According to the International Energy Agency, China will have to rely on imports for 79% of its oil needs by 2030. In fact, according to Wang Qingyun, head of State Bureau of Material Reserve, China's state oil reserves are just enough for a month's consumption.

In short, energy supplies have become a national security issue for the country. Buy big and buy it fast, or risk running out of fuel for your domestic economic engine. Clearly, the big players are already playing smart by already exploring their options elsewhere.

The Foolish bottom line
These Western-based asset deals will surely serve as armor for Chinese oil giants and the country in general. In his article "Where to Bet on Rising Oil Prices," Foolish colleague Tim Hanson had mentioned that oil present in politically stable areas is worth a premium. He stressed the dangers of buying assets in politically risky places, and these Chinese companies all featured in his list of the five worst-performing E&P companies.

But with these companies making amends by turning to the Canadian oil sands and the like, I consider them potential investment opportunities in the long run.

Add PetroChina, CNOOC, and China Petroleum & Chemical to your watchlist today.

Fool contributor Zeeshan Siddique does not own any of the stocks mentioned in the article. CNOOC is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Chesapeake Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.