Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s trip to Sudan and South Sudan is a symbolic indication of the careful balancing act China must play since the independence of South Sudan one month ago yesterday. It is also a reminder of the important role China will continue to play if true peace is to be realized in Sudan.
China has more leverage than any other country in influencing Khartoum and, as I told Radio France International in an interview yesterday,
China, with its immense oil investments, has a vested interest in stability in both Sudans. The question is whether the effect of that influence will be negative or positive.
China has played a positive role in the past, providing the first engineers for the peacekeeping mission in Darfur and helping to steer Sudan toward a peaceful referendum and recognition of South Sudan’s independence. However, China is also a leading supplier of weapons to Sudan, many of which have been used against civilians in Darfur, in violation of a UN Security Council arms embargo, and has acted to block UN Security Council statements and action against Sudan.
China’s red carpet reception of President Bashir, an indicted war criminal, was a sharp affront to international justice, but at least held the hope that China might be able to nudge Bashir on a less destructive path. The hundreds killed and more than 200,000 displaced in South Kordofan and Abyei since June and the continuing bombing of villages in Darfur show that any Chinese efforts to that effect clearly failed.
If China is truly interested in stability in Sudan, out of oil inspired self interest if not revulsion for the atrocities being committed, then it should stop coddling Khartoum and allow stronger action in the UN Security Council including a UN civilian protection force for South Kordofan and Blue Nile, an expanded arms embargo, a demand for humanitarian access, and an investigation into atrocities already committed in the Nuba Mountains.
The United States, for its part, should engage China, make protection of civilians in Sudan a priority in the face of ongoing atrocities, and make it clear that they have a mutual interest in peace in both Sudans, an interest to which Bashir is clearly an obstacle.