China is often criticized for its form of no-strings-attached investment in Sudan’s oil industry. Now that a south Sudanese secession from the north seems imminent, what does China have to lose or gain?
International media criticized China's Africa policies by refering to the 2008 Olympics as "Genocide Olympics"
Most of Sudan’s oil is produced in the south of the country and pumped through the north via a pipeline to the Red Sea. And China controls 40 per cent of Sudan’s oil sector – with the energy-hungry country’s large oil interests in both the north and the south, some are asking what the split will mean for Sudan’s largest oil investor.
More than 3 million southern Sudanese voters cast their ballots in a referendum on independence earlier this month
According to John Asworth, an independent Sudan expert and advisor to various NGOs, not much will change. "I think China feared that they will lose their oil from Sudan when the south becomes independent. They are beginning to realize slowly that that’s not the case. Southern Sudan needs international partners to process the oil, to extract it and to buy it. They need international funding and they’re very open to dealing with China."
Chinese involvement in Sudan and other parts of Africa has been greatly criticized – with international media referring to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing as "Genocide Olympics" because of it. But when it comes to oil, not only Chinese companies are to blame, says Marina Peter from the Sudan Ecumenical Forum.
She says all companies which were involved in Sudan's oil business were more or less involved in human rights abuses, because, for one reason, "all the people living on would-be oil fields were expropriated. So you can't necessarily say that the Chinese played a larger role than others."
Stephen Chan expects China will expand peace-keeping missions
While Chinese policy makers have been blamed for encouraging rights abuses, or at least for not trying to stop them, Stephen Chan of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies points out that the Chinese have put in much more developmental assistance that directly benefits ordinary people than many other governments. He says many of the civil engineering projects are prime examples and believes that China will continue to invest when South Sudan gets independence in July, 2011. He says there is already a long line-up of potential international investors, but that China is sure to have an advantage.
Non-interference - putting profits before ethics
Beijing claims to follow a foreign policy of non-intervention. But during the last Sudanese Civil War, China was involved in arms sales and used its seat on the UN Security Council to veto resolutions and sanctions that many countries had already adopted to pressure Sudan's President Al Bashir to stop the long lasting atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan. But Chan says China did play a positive role behind the scenes.
Whole villages were wiped off the map for oil drilling in Sudan
He says, "I don’t think they’ve been given enough credit for the initiatives that they took at quite a high level. I think that the Chinese can take credit for their behind the scenes diplomacy in persuading President Al Bashir to start winding down these atrocities and his war in Darfur."
Experts say Beijing has been playing its cards right, busying itself making friends with the South Sudanese government in the run-up to the referendum. Marina Peter says this will surely benefit China, as Chinese expertise will be much needed and in demand for the construction of roads and dams in the war-torn region.
Author: Sarah Berning
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein