China’s Sudan Opportunity

While there have been major disputes between Sudan and South Sudan since long before the latter’s formation in July of 2011, China has tried hard to maintain a favorable relationship with both states. China, who has major oil investments in both Sudans, has regularly expressed its hopes for peace in the region. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, who was in China earlier this week, cut his trip short, telling President Hu that Sudan had “declared war”. Yesterday, the U.S. submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions on both of the African states if border clashes don’t cease, and China remains reluctant to endorse any punitive measures by the U.N. Beijing instead supports a regional settlement plan laid out by the African Union, but also sees opportunity in helping with mediation. The Diplomat gives three reasons why:

First, South Sudan owes its independence largely to the West, which seeks to use South Sudan to balance the rule of Bashir. With this in mind, some Chinese scholars have grown concerned that China’s influence will gradually come to be overshadowed. The current tensions give China an opportunity to make clear that the West doesn’t have the necessary influence on both sides to resolve the current problems.

Second, China must ensure that it has a stable supply of oil from the region. North and South Sudanhold important resources, and it’s therefore in China’s direct interests to ensure the steady supply of resources needed to fuel the country’s growth.

Third, and looking ahead, if China can successfully intervene to defuse the conflict between the two Sudans, it will bolster trust in Beijing’s diplomacy among other governments in the region, as well as foster greater trust.

There’s much that is misunderstood about China’s role in Africa, and the current situation gives China’s leaders a chance to offer some much-needed reassurance. They should seize the chance to show that China’s foreign policy is as peaceful as they claim.

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer analyzes the dispute, claiming that though mediation should remain the responsibility of the African Union, both the U.S. and China have a considerable amount of leverage to use. She goes on to identify a problem in the way that China and the U.S. are approaching this situation, and to offer suggestions:

[...]Frazer says it is “a strategic mistake and it has never worked” for the international community to treat both sides equally, since the northern Sudan is clearly the aggressor in this latest conflict as well as many of those in the past. “The international community should be united against northern aggression,” she says.

[...]What’s China’s role in all of this? As a long-time ally of Khartoum, but also a large purchaser of oil from South Sudan, can it play a mediating role?

No, it shouldn’t be a mediator–no more than the United States should. The mediation should stay within the African Union. But China and the United States are two of the most important players here, from the point of view that they can bring pressure to bear on both parties. They can bring coercive pressure–i.e, sticks, sanctions–and they can also bring incentives to bear. They could bring the goods that would actually deliver parties to the mediator. So China has an essential role to play, as does the United States. And the United States and China working hand in hand is even better.

A recent article from Reuters claims that the U.S. and China have already started “working hand in hand,”:

China will send its envoy for Africa to Sudan and South Sudan to urge talks as it works with the United States to bring an end to border fighting that has raised fears of a full-scale war, Chinese government officials said on Wednesday.

[...]“Our special envoy to Africa will soon visit the two countries to continue urging talks,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a regular news briefing.

[...]At a separate briefing, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said China was working with the United States to try to end the crisis.

“Both of our countries have special envoys who are in very close touch,” Cui said.

“China and the United States are working on the issue through our own channels. We hope Sino-U.S. cooperation on this issue will pay off,” he said.