China’s very delicate balancing act in the Sudans began this week as its foreign minister Yang Jiechi made high-profile visits to both Khartoum and Juba. It’s in China’s interests to keep the two sides happy, as they’re the beneficiaries of most of the oil which flows from South Sudan’s oil fields through north Sudan’s ports. And they might be the only ones who can. By SIMON ALLISON.
China is great friends with the old Sudanese regime in the north. Omar al-Bashir, the man who’s not even meant to be able to travel thanks to the war crimes indictment hanging over his head, was given the full red-carpet treatment in Beijing in June, and there’s plenty of Chinese money floating around Khartoum, particularly in the oil sector. China has also condemned the arrest warrant for al-Bashir issued on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court. The foreign minister’s visit to Khartoum saw China granted oil exploration rights for three new blocs in Sudan, while China agreed to help build an ambitious new railway line linking Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.
Yang then went on to Juba, capital of South Sudan. But despite China’s historical support of the north, the foreign minister was welcomed with open arms. South Sudan already has very close ties with the US and other western governments, but the government may look to China to help with development and infrastructure projects, with no strings attached.
For China, securing relations with the south is vital. “We have always believed that the north and the south are interdependent, and we hope to see that – proceeding from the fundamental interests of their peoples and the stability of the region – they stick to the peace option and address the issues through dialogue,” the Chinese foreign minister said, before offering to mediate in the many disputes between the two sides. Cut through this diplo-speak and the reason the Chinese emphasise interdependence and want peace is clear: while Sudanese oil is shipped from Port Sudan in the north (which is the only port in the area adequately equipped to handle it), most of the oil comes from wells in the south. To get the oil flowing smoothly, China needs to make sure that the north and the south are talking to each other.
Which is no bad thing. And, as the only major power with genuine influence in both capitals, China might be best placed to achieve peace, or at least a productive detente, between the two countries. DM
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Photo: Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti speaks during a joint news conference with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi after meeting Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir during his visit to Khartoum, Sudan August 8, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
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