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Sudan - China Relations

Chinese engagement in Sudan centers on the pursuit of its economic interests, particularly oil. China is primarily responsible for the development of Sudan's petroleum industry and the main beneficiary of it. The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has been present in Sudan since 1996 and currently has the largest share in Sudan's most productive blocks (namely blocks 1/2/4 producing the high quality Nile blend and blocks 3/7 producing the lower quality Dar blend). Due to rising production in blocks 3 and 7 in 2007, crude oil exports from Sudan to China doubled last year to approximately 200,00 barrels a days, with many estimates ranking Sudan as China's sixth-largest oil supplier. These ties underpin China's relationship with the ruling National Congress Party of President Al-Bashir.

The CNPC's contracts with the GNU now disproportionately benefit China. However, oil experts, including the Norwegian Petroleum Envoy to Sudan, assert that even if the contracts were renegotiated, China will be more focused on energy security and access to oil than to its price. Other experts emphasize that Chinese companies appear anxious to extract oil as quickly and cheaply as possible, which proves detrimental to the longevity of the wells and the environment.

China's interest in maintaining access to Sudan's oil caused an uptick in engagement with the South as a hedge against the prospect of the South's secession following the 2011 referendum. Nonetheless, the North, where pipelines, refineries and other oil infrastructure were located (and which China largely funded and built) continued to be vitally important to China. This new foray into agricultural investment appears intended to signal China's constancy as a partner to Sudan regardless of the outcome of the 2011 referendum.

Tentative steps to strengthen China's relationship with the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) initially yielded few concrete results. In the first high-level contact, GoSS President Salva Kiir visited Beijing in the summer of 2007 and met with the senior Chinese leadership. While the Chinese pledged to open a consulate in Juba, construction had not begun by 2010, and the only visible diplomatic engagement with the GoSS occurred when the Chinese Ambassador visited Juba in late 2007 with a large Chinese delegation.

The Ministry of Regional Cooperation (the de facto GoSS Foreign Ministry) attributes the lack of progress on the China-GoSS relationship both to lingering Southern resentment toward China because of its backing for the North and the Ministry's own lack of capacity to focus on developing the relationship. Though a Chinese technical assessment team traveled through the South to survey power needs and China has expressed an interest in infrastructure projects, no significant investment projects in Southern Sudan were underway.

China increased its political and economic presence in Sudan, particularly in the East. China donated US$36 million to the Eastern Sudan Reconstruction and Development Fund (ESRDF), with the stipulation that the 12 projects to be implemented with this money be awarded to Chinese companies. Chinese oil interests are also reportedly conducting exploration in the Tokar Delta area of Kassala State. China also invited a delegation of representatives from all of Sudan's political parties, including the Beja Congress, to Beijing for a conference on democracy and human rights.

By 2010 China had a number of projects to develop infrastructure in Sudan. China has provided funding for projects to build six roads totaling 1,250 kilometers in Western Darfur, and in Northern Kordofan. The PRC and the Sudanese Government (GOS) were planning additional projects, including constructing bridges, in several other regions as a way to improve transportation.

However, China viewed investment in agriculture as a key part of its Sudan strategy. The PRC encouraged private enterprises to invest heavily in Sudan's agricultural sector. China had ten farms in Sudan by 2010, and was expanding its agricultural investments in both the north and the south. China also helped Sudan build a sugar factory in Sennar State, one of Sudan's most important agricultural areas. Saudi Arabian investors are also reported to have invested some 200 million (USD) in agricultural projects in Sennar. The PRC was also reportedly considering projects in Northern and Nile States. Northern State is an important producer of wheat, beans, sorghum and dates, while Nile State houses the largest electricity-generating project in the country, the Merowe Dam, constructed by the PRC.

To burnish its international image, China contributed military forces to the two peacekeeping missions operating in the country: the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) which monitors the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North/South civil war and the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). While Chinese units in UNAMID are handicapped by delays in equipment deliveries, the UNMIS Force Commander has often reported that Chinese units in his force are among the most disciplined and effective of any contingent.

China's engagement on political issues related to the conflict in Darfur or the tensions between Northern and Southern Sudan were limited. Focusing its ire on Darfur's rebel groups, China had not demonstrated a willingness to press Khartoum to take initial steps that would build confidence in a peace process. Similarly, Beijing has used little or no leverage to overcome the obstacles to implementation of the CPA, the single most determinative factor on Sudan's future stability.

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Page last modified: 05-01-2014 19:05:50 ZULU