In South Sudan, China is abandoning its usual policy to protect its energetic (and economic) interests
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN SOUTH SUDAN?
South Sudan, officially known as the Republic of South Sudan, is the youngest state in the world. It was formally created on the 9th July 2011, following two bloody civil wars and a referendum regarding independence from Sudan in January 2011. Despite its young age and the immediate international recognition it obtained, the Juba government faced problems from day one. Infact, we are talking about one of the poorest countries in the world, with one of the highest infant mortality rate and one of the lowest GDPs in the world. These wars have devastated the country and left a fragmented territory lacking major infrastructure. At the end of 2013, what dramatically complicated the situation was an ethnic conflict between the President Kiir (of Dinka ethnic origin- the biggest in the country) and his ex vice-president Machar (of Nuer ethnic origin- the second largest in the country). Today, with a ceasefire broken in late January, 10,000 dead, one million displaced, a famine and various alerts from UN agencies and NGOS on the field; South Sudan is falling into spiralling violence and human rights violations.
CHINA IN SOUTH SUDAN
At the time of secession, the boundaries drawn for the newborn South Sudan included about 75% of the oil wells of the old Sudan. Long before 2011, however, a “new player” had made its appearance in the economy of Sudan: China, or rather the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). In fact, in the nineties, while Khartoum ended in the American list of countries sponsoring international terrorism, CNPC ensured de facto control of Sudan’s oil, turning Sudan into an exporting country. It is no coincidence that 60% of these exports end up in Beijing. China has always had policy of non-interference in the political matters of others, no matter who is in government or whether they implement their domestic policies democratically and with respect to human rights. The important thing is that Chinese investment is welcome. This usual policy forces China to maintain relations only with governments and not with rebel factions, to avoid the risk of “taking part” in conflicts. At the dawn of independence, therefore, the strategy was straight-forward: continue investing in Sudan, but begin relations with the future South Sudan, promising investments in exchange of open doors for CNPC. And so it was on Independence Day that China was confirmed loyal and valuable ally of Khartoum, and Juba’s new partner (80% of South Sudanese oil that ends up in Beijing). But let’s go back to South Sudan: the only pipeline that allows the marketing of ‘black gold’ goes towards the north. This forces Juba to pay expensive fees for the transportation of oil. Surely it is a thing worth considering for them, given that oil exports represent 95% of South Sudanese economy. In the meantime however, the government has set up a project, with the approval of CNPC, for a pipeline that goes to the east, precisely to Lamu, on the Kenyan coast. The problem now is that the current conflict in South Sudan is undermining the safety of the operators of the CNPC. Machar has been targeting oil facilities in an attempt to weaken the main source of income of Kiir’s government. In addition, the flow of oil from South Sudan has already decreased by 20%. China has evacuated operators of CNPC and gave a historic twist to its policy of non-interference: the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi took part in the peace talks in Addis Ababa last January. These resulted in a stalemate and a growing concern on the future of China in South Sudan for the foreign minister. If it is too early to say that Beijing has abandoned the path of non-interference (think Ukraine), but there is no question that its involvement in the South Sudanese issue represents a possible change of strategy towards a more proactive role of mediation. In conclusion, if there are huge economic interests to protect, like it is doing in South Sudan, China will eventually get more involved in the domestic affairs of the countries where it has invested.
Watch an explanatory video here by our partners at the 3 min post!Written by: Marco Principia Translation: Virginia Vigliar
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