Saturday, April 7, 2012

China Balances Sudan and South Sudan

Al-Jazeera English language TV asked me to comment 7 April 2012 on China's ability to help resolve the numerous problems between Sudan and South Sudan. I replied that China is in a delicate position. It has historically close ties with Khartoum, built the oil infrastructure in the North and supplied Khartoum with large numbers of weapons used against South Sudan during the civil war. China realized, however, that South Sudan would likely opt for independence and began soon after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 to improve relations with Juba. By offering funding to develop the South and holding out the prospect of large quantities of investment, it has managed to establish reasonably good relations with Juba.

When asked if China is following a neo-colonialist policy in Sudan and South Sudan, I replied that it is not. Its policy can be described as mercantilist just as the policy of most Western countries can be so described. Both China and the West are relying on Africa primarily as a source of raw materials, especially oil and minerals.

While China still has substantial leverage in Khartoum and more than most observers realize in Juba, its policy is constrained by an ideological reluctance to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. This may restrain China from putting pressure on Khartoum to compromise with Juba. In South Sudan, it also faces lingering suspicion for its strong military support of Khartoum. At the same time, much of the ammunition and small arms in South Sudan today are of Chinese origin although they may have come from third parties.

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