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China's alarming involvement in Sudan

By Frederick Stakelbeck
web posted March 27, 2006

Sudan's brutal Islamist President Omar al-Bashir and Chinese President Hu Jintao have become fast friends as of late, forging a Sino-Sudanese alliance that has serious implications for the Sudanese people and the future stability of the African continent. " China has burst on the African scene with a presence that has been frightening to many people who hadn't realized how wide its reach is," U.S. Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA), chairman of the new House China Caucus, noted in January.

The recent announcement by Beijing of a new Africa policy based upon the concept of "mutual fulfillment with no preconditions" has raised concerns in Washington by those who say that China's Sudan foreign policy is manipulative and opportunistic; and that it ignores the displacement of an estimated 2 million Sudanese villagers and the murder of 180,000 others for its own economic gain.

Omar al-Bashir

In testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in late 2005, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) stated, "In Sudan, Chinese oil investments have helped to prop up a regime in Khartoum that our president and this Congress have accused of involvement in genocide."

While humanitarian issues have little value in Beijing's new Africa policy, energy interests—and the military means to protect those interests—play important roles in the Red Dragon's actions on the continent, particularly in poverty-ravaged Sudan.

China currently imports 7 percent of its oil from Sudan; making Sino-Sudanese relations an extremely important part of China's evolving energy strategy. As a result, Beijing has blanketed Sudan with over $4 billion in investment over the past several years, hoping to secure long-term energy agreements, while increasing its economic, political and military influence in Africa. "Chinese investment and development in Africa has strong potential because Africa is abundant in natural resources, which are urgently needed for China's economic development," noted Chinese Foreign Minister Li Guozeng recently.

Since 1996, numerous Chinese state-controlled enterprises have been hard at work in Sudan cultivating energy relationships. The state-controlled China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which owns a 40 percent share in Sudan's largest oil venture, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, currently pumps 300,000 barrels per day, most of which is sent to mainland China. Sinopec, another energy enterprise, has completed an oil pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where Chinese tankers ferry oil to China's developing industrial cities. China's Petroleum Engineering Construction Group has also been instrumental is the construction of a large tanker terminal at Port Sudan, as well as roads, bridges and dams.

To protect its vast energy investments in Sudan and to secure additional lands for energy development and exploration, China has readily supplied weapons to the Bashir regime, delivering F-7 jet fighters, assault helicopters and armored vehicles to the country.

With the help of its Muslim "Janjaweed" militia groups and the blessing of Bashir, the Sudanese Air Force has used Chinese-made weapons against defenseless villagers in Darfur. There have also been persistent claims by independent aid groups that Sudanese government troops and rebels have used Chinese oil company airstrips to conduct bombing raids on villages and hospitals.

On more than one occasion, China has purposely blocked the U.N. from taking punitive action against the murderous Bashir regime. In 2004, strong Chinese opposition forced the U.N. Security Council to tone down a resolution that would have referred the Darfur matter to the International Criminal Court. Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha told the country's cabinet he had Chinese assurances the resolution would not be passed, "He [Taha] was confident it would not get through and told them not to worry," a cabinet source said.

Since that disappointing vote, Beijing has continued to use its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council to protect Khartoum, pledging to veto any U.N. bid to impose an oil embargo on Sudan. Serious questions concerning China's intentions in Sudan surfaced again last month, when Beijing announced that it was indefinitely delaying the deployment of a critical Chinese medical unit to the conflict-stricken Darfur region.

The upcoming China-Africa Summit, scheduled for later this year in Beijing, is a perfect opportunity for the U.S. to regain its footing on the Africa issue. With U.S.-Africa trade at approximately $45 billion a year and numerous U.S.-sponsored humanitarian and investment projects evident throughout the continent; the U.S. is not merely an interested African observer – it is a committed partner.

One question remains for Sudan's tyrant Bashir – what will the thousands of entrenched Chinese nationals do in Sudan once the oil disappears?

Fred Stakelbeck is a foreign affairs writer based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at Frederick.stakelbeck@verizon.net.


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