China’s tango with Khartoum

Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir’s visit to China has sparked wide spread condemnation because of the International Criminal Court’s indictment of the Sudanese leader. How China feels about the ICC’s judgement was aptly reflected in the protocol extended to the visiting leader, who was welcomed warmly, to say the least.

In any case, the ICC’s Damocles sword may have been the last thing on the minds of both Bashir and the Chinese President Hu Jintao. Bigger economic concerns and consolidating relations topped the agenda, especially as the date for Sudan’s division into two separate states looms large on the horizon. Come July, and the South will separate from (Northern) Sudan.

This also means that the oil reserves in the South that China imports from will no longer be under the control of Khartoum. However, the oil will require to be transported in the pipeline going through Northern Sudan for any export purposes. This naturally demands minimal friction between the newly independent South Sudan and the North. Chinese interests in maintaining a balanced relationship with both is obvious in order to ensure hassle free trade of it’s key import. China is also a major investor in the energy sector in Sudan and is bound to be worried about the future of its investments. Take for example, the multibillion dollar 20-year agreement between Khartoum and China National Petroleum Corporation that was signed in 2007.

While China’s predominant concern is of course economic, this also means it can play a positive role in bringing about a peaceful division of the country based on the independence referendum results.

China’s economic standing alongside its close relations with the leadership in Khartoum is bound to influence policy decisions. President Bashir is also sure to be mindful of sustaining and developing further, economic relations with China in other areas besides oil, post independence when Khartoum’s control on the oil resources is made redundant. Of course, while the Sudanese states are yet to decide a feasible arrangement for the sharing of revenues from oil and working out all border disputes, a graceful and peaceful acceptance of the newly independent state of Southern Sudan by Khartoum is likely to set the pace for a peaceful resolution of even these contentious issues. China has already stated it wishes to see a peaceful settlement of disputes between the two sides, a point it must have reiterated in front of the Sudanese leader as well.

China is desirous to deepen cooperation with Khartoum in the economic and technological fields, agreements for which were signed in Beijing. This does portend a long-term economic relationship, one Khartoum is likely to nurture as it extends its economic vision. It is hoped that the relationship with China impacts the relations with Southern Sudan positively as well.

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