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China in South Sudan

The Evolvement of the Chinese Non-Interference Policy

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2018 25 Seiten

Orientalistik / Sinologie - Chinesisch / China


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. China and the Two Sudans, a Complex Triangle
2.1. Early Investments, Darfur and a Peace Deal
2.2. Independence, Civil War and UNMISS

3. Non-Interference Revisited
3.1. The Challenge of Non-Interference
3.2. Balancing Self-Interest and Global Responsibility: Non-Interference in Practice

4. China’s Motivations and Limitations in South Sudan

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

China’s engagement in Africa is often harshly criticised by Western media and seen as exploitative and neo-colonialist. Undoubtedly the impact on Chinese involvement in Africa has been both positive (investments in infrastructure, new jobs, economic growth) and negative (legitimising autocratic regimes, monopolisation of resources, potentially unequal partnerships). However Sautman and Yan (2009) have found in their extensive study on African perspectives on China-Africa links that African opinions are variegated and complex and differ from country to country. In fact they came to the conclusion that “no generalised ‘Chinese problem’ exists until politicians decide to create it” (Sautman & Yan 2009:730). These perceptions are of course largely shaped by China’s foreign policy actions: South Sudan is a particularly interesting case study because it has been used as a “testing ground for China’s proactive diplomacy” (Shen 2012).1

South Sudan is simultaneously the world’s youngest and most fragile state (The Fund for Peace 2018). The country is still poverty-stricken and underdeveloped, in many regions there are no electricity, paved roads or schools. 85 percent of South Sudanese are illiterate - the independence vote in 2011 which led to the founding of South Sudan and its separation from Sudan was symbolized by clasped hands or a solitary hand (Lin 2011). Most Western countries consider Sudan and by extension South Sudan to be - “an aid recipient, an abuser of human rights, and a former colony of Egypt and Great Britain.” (Natsios 2012:62). However South Sudan is rich in terms of its oil reserves. This has both been a blessing and a curse for the young nation: On the one hand almost all of the country’s revenues stem from oil production, on the other hand it meant that South Sudan invested disproportionally in the securement of its oil resources, but not in education, public health or infrastructure (Medani 2018:28). This in turn has led to an unparalleled dependence on oil: “There is no oil-exporting country in the world so dependent on this one commodity for its revenue” (Medani 2013:28). Oil is also what originally brought China to Sudan and then South Sudan. It holds political and geopolitical significance: “Sudan was the Chinese oil industry’s first overseas success and retains symbolic importance.” (International Crisis Group 2017:7). The economical dimension can’t be separated from the political here, in South Sudan we find a “striking coexistence of actual political and aspirational economic relations” (Large 2014:41).

This interwovenness of political and economic interests has proven to be an increasing challenge for China’s traditional foreign policy of non-interference (bùgânshè zhèngcè In the last few years “South Sudan has been the site of an evolving, experimental and more proactive Chinese political and security engagement.” (Large 2016:35).

In the following I will firstly explore China’s history of evolving involvement in Sudan and South Sudan and its role as a stakeholder throughout periods of conflict and civil war. I will then go on to analyse China’s foreign policy actions in South Sudan, its motivations and limitations. In conclusion I will attempt to situate the case of South Sudan in China’s wider foreign policy, exploring how China’s traditional foreign policy of non-interference is gradually shifting and expanding to a policy of ‘flexible intervention’. The fact that South Sudan only gained independence in 2011 and that shortly after, in late 2013, civil war flared up again, makes a lot of research on this topic outdated. Only what has been published from 2014 onwards can provide a full analysis of the current situation, but this also somehow limits the research I could rely on for this paper.

2. China and the Two Sudans, a Complex Triangle

2.1. Early Investments, Darfur and a Peace Deal

Diplomatic relations between China and Sudan were established in 1959 and remained cordial, but limited until the 1970s when China offered Sudan its first loan and began a series of aid projects (Shinn 2009:87). Another important factor in the bilateral2 relationship was that Sudan backed China on its policies regarding Tibet, Taiwan and border conflicts from the beginning (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in South Sudan 2018). China’s engagement in Southern Sudan began in March 1997 when the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed an oil development deal with the government in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital (International Crisis Group 2017:1). Some voices in the international oil industry saw CNPC’s first major overseas investment as a scheme from Beijing to “’lock up’ oil around the world for China’s exclusive use.” (Patey 2014:82). However as Patey (2014:82) suggests in his analysis it was rather the other way around: CNPC exploited “its longstanding relations with the Communist Party of China to achieve its own corporate strategy overseas.” Between 1999 and 2011 Sudan provided an average of 5.5 percent of China’s total oil imports, making it the country’s sixth largest supplier. Within Africa Angola is China’s largest source of crude oil, providing 12.3 percent of total imports in 2017, ranking third only after Russia (14.6 percent) and Saudi Arabia (12.5 percent) (International Trade Centre 2018; National Bureau of Statistics of China 2018). When in 2003 rebels in Darfur, a region that had been continually politically and economically marginalized, took up arms against the Sudanese government, which responded with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign, China found itself in the middle of a full-blown civil war (International Crisis Group 2017:4; Shinn 2009:85). By early 2004 the conflict in Darfur3 had left over a million people internally displaced, 80.000 had been killed (Shinn 2009:86) and ten thousands of women raped. Rape was used as “a uniquely effective tool for undermining the social order” (Gingerich & Leaning 2004:8). The age of the rape victims ranged from under 10 to over 70 years, the majority was raped by multiple men (Gingerich & Leaning 2004:15).

Throughout the crisis in Darfur China has, in correspondence with its traditional policy of non-interference, acted as “Sudan’s key international patron”, shielding Khartoum from sanctions whenever possible and insisting on its consent to admitting a UN force into Darfur (Large 2008:100). The UN Security Council imposed a mandatory arms embargo in 2004 on all non-governmental entities and individuals in Darfur which was extended to all armed parties in 2005 (United Nations Security Council 2004 & 2005). China abstained on both resolutions and continued to sell military equipment to Sudan which technically did not violate the embargo unless Sudanese armed forces were to use them in Darfur (Shinn 2009:90). However because of its close economic and political ties to Sudan China came under increasing pressure from the international community which accused it of assisting the government of Sudan in the commission of crimes against humanity (Kotecki 2008:209). The criticism also threatened the smooth proceeding of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, “China’s purported coming-of-age show” (International Crisis Group 2017:4f.). Activists and NGOs called for a boycott of the Games, labelling them the “Genocide Olympics” (Shinn 2009:93) which put even further pressure on the People’s Republic. It also increased China’s effort to implement a peace deal between the warring parties which came into effect in 2005: The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was essentially a compromise between two authoritarian parties - the National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum lead by al-Bashir and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) led by Kiir (Medani 2013:27). The CPA ended the civil war and paved the way for the South’s independence. While China played an influential role in the negotiations which proved a first major challenge of its traditional non-interference policy, it still did not act as a full-fledged mediator. (International Crisis Group 2017:2-4).

In May 2007 China appointed Liu Guijin (Lifi Guïjln /ij w x7), former ambassador to South Africa, as its Special Envoy to Sudan and then later for “African Affairs” in general. His appointment signalled above all that China acknowledged its concern over the harm to its image resulting from its relationship with Sudan in the context of Darfur (Shinn 2009:92).

2.2. Independence, Civil War and UNMISS

Despite the CPA tensions between the North and the South persisted which manifested in violent clashes between rebel groups and government forces. Since oil fields were often at the centre of disputes and the rebels saw China as an accomplice of the government, Chinese citizens were sometimes specifically targeted. The most serious incident happened in 2008 when the attack of an unknown rebel group resulted in the kidnapping of nine Chinese employees of the CNPC in an oilfield near Darfur. Four were killed, one remained missing and four were eventually rescued, (Shinn 2009:90; Sina News 2018). China continued to be one of the main stakeholders in the conflict and had a strong interest in stabilising the situation. It was the only permanent Security Council member to contribute peacemakers to the United Nations African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) which was deployed in 2007, a conflict between the North and the South accumulated in the 2011 independence vote where an overwhelming 98.83 percent of all participants voted in favour of South Sudan’s independence (UNMISS 2018). Only shortly after the independence vote conflicts broke out again - first with Sudan over oil payments and then internally in 2013 shortly after President Salva Kür (who is Dinka) fired vice president Riek Machar (who is Nuer) and the entire cabinet (Medani 2013:26).

South Sudan emerged into independence as “a repressive one-party state” (Medani 2013:27), “a kleptocratic petro-state underpinned by military rule (...). Power lay in the hands of men with guns."(Large 2016:37).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Graphic 1 : A map of South Sudan, showing the disputed areas. (International Crisis Group 2017)

Its economy was completely dependent on oil which made up 60 percent of the country’s GDP and 99 percent of government revenue. Three quarters of Sudan’s oil production went to South Sudan, but the government in Khartoum retained the key oil infrastructure (including the oil-export pipeline). Khartoum demanded steep transit fees from Juba which were high above the international average. This lead to a shutdown of the entire oil production which lasted from January 2012 until April 2013 and cost both countries as well as China and other foreign investors hundreds of millions. (International Crisis Group 2017:7f.; Large 2014:41; Natsios 2012:66).

In addition to the oil disputes with Khartoum there were internal conflicts the new government had to deal with, which eventually lead to civil war. As Medani (2013:27) points out, “a key misconception about the conflict is that it is Tribal’”, when it is actually of a political-economic nature, major points of conflict being the authoritarian nature of SPLM/A, country’s reliance on oil rents, competition over resources in rural areas and privatization of communally owned lands. When fighting broke out in December 2013 China’s CNPC had to rapidly evacuate around 400 Chinese nationals, followed by other smaller-scale evacuations in the years after (Large 2016:40).

Only after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed China began to foster relations with South Sudan, discreetly at first, in order not to alienate its longstanding ally Sudan (Large 2016:37; Natsios 2012:65). Quasi diplomatic relations between China and South Sudan began in 2007 (Large 2014:44). They were off to a rocky start - the shutdown of the oil production, a controversy surrounding a major loan from China4 and unrealistic infrastructure development goals complicated the bilateral relationship (Large 2014:41). Chinese companies were quick to expand after the independence vote, currently around 100 Chinese companies are active in South Sudan (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in South Sudan 2018).


1 This phrase has been used in an article by Chinese analyst Shen Dingli published in the Oriental Morning Post (Döngfang Zäobao ЖТГ-¥-$й) in 2012. Unfortunately the paper, being one of the most outspoken voices in Shanghai’s media landscape, has been shut-down in 2016 (Qiao 2017) so I have to rely on Large (2016) for quoting Shen.

2 1 will expand on the Chinese foreign policy concept of non-interference, its historical development and current implementation in Chapter 3.

3 Until today there is a disagreement on whether the actions in Darfur constitute as a genocide - what the US-government and several NGOs call it, while the UN and the African Union (AU) speak of

4 In April 2012 not long after the shutdown of the oil production Juba announced a monumental loan deal with China worth $8 billion which had previously not been agreed upon. This caused a popular backlash against China which appeared to not make good on its promises of support to South Sudan. That it took China over a year to publicly clarify the lack of a loan did not help the process. (Large 2014:41; Large 2016:3817).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Institution / Hochschule
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg – Institut für Sinologie
China South Sudan Non-Interference Policy Foreign Policy Civil War Foreign Aid UNMISS



Titel: China in South Sudan