December 17, 2005

China’s interests in Sudan brings diplomatic cover

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - China's trade and oil interests in
Sudan have induced the permanent U.N. Security Council member
to provide diplomatic cover for the government accused by many
of war crimes against its own people, analysts say.

Sudan has had its back against the wall of the U.N.
headquarters in New York during the past 18 months over the
conflict in Darfur, where tens of thousands of people have died
as a result of violence the United States called genocide.

But the specter of a Chinese veto has shielded Sudan from
possible sanctions over the conflict and in turn protected a
growing source of much-needed oil for Beijing.

"This is RealPolitik," said Adwoa Kufuor, a human rights
analyst on Sudan. "Yes China has economic interests ... and yes
China will not risk offending the government of Sudan."

China's heavy but understated presence in Sudan is
symbolized by the vast, walled compound housing its embassy on
prime real estate in Khartoum. It dominates Sudan's crude oil
sector, which produces around 330,000 barrels per day, and is
building roads, bridges and dams.

China has become Sudan's biggest foreign investor with $4
billion in projects.

"In key countries, China is becoming the new IMF of Africa
without the strings, or at least only with strings that tied to
Chinese national commercial interests," said Martyn Davies,
director of the Center for Chinese Studies at South Africa's
Stellenbosch University.

Despite widespread condemnation within the United Nations
of the atrocities ongoing in Darfur, and acknowledgment of the
government's involvement in them, Sudan has avoided penalty.

Numerous resolutions have reiterated Khartoum must disarm
its proxy Arab militias, accused of widespread rape, killing
and looting, but Sudan has still not done this. Violence
escalated recently, prompting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
to warn the region was descending into anarchy.

"In the case of Darfur, the main impediment to stronger
action by the Security Council has been China, which owns a 40
percent share of Sudan's main oil producing field," rights
group Human Rights Watch said in a report.

It said China had used the threat of its veto to soften
resolutions critical of the government.


Ideologically Sudan's Islamist government is an unlikely
ally for Communist China.

But Hassan al-Turabi, the Sudanese president's former ally,
said China's considerable military loans and investment in
Sudan were welcomed because they came without strings attached.

He said Beijing's diplomatic support, especially on
preventing sanctions, was based on business.

"(This is) for their own interests of course," Turabi said.
"They are oil producing in this country -- if there are any
sanctions, that may have an impact on their own oil production
in this country."

China has abstained from voting on every Security Council
resolution critical of the Sudanese government's failure to
halt the violence in Darfur, which forced more than 2 million
people from their homes last year and created what the United
Nations called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

But in protecting Sudan, China must not be seen to be
ignoring other interests and that limits how far Beijing is
willing to go.

The acid test of Sudanese-Chinese relations came on March
31, when U.N. Security Council Resolution 1593 referred Darfur
to the International Criminal Court, the first such move.

Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha told Sudan's cabinet
he had Chinese assurances the resolution would not be passed, a
source close to the presidency told Reuters. "He was confident
it would not get through and told them not to worry," he said.

Wang Guangya, China's U.N. representative, told the
Council: "China did not favor the referral to the International
Criminal Court without the consent of the Sudanese Government."
But their abstention rather than a veto embarrassed Taha within
the government, the presidency source said.

Turabi said while China's investment in Sudan was
considerable, they had other wider interests which meant they
could not offer full support to Sudan in opposition to powerful
trading partners like the United States.

"If they treat the Sudan too gently of course that would
cost them too much otherwise, so people understand that as much
as they have given to us -- that was enough," Turabi said.