Sudan and South Sudan's slow yet deadly war of blood for oil reserves has ensnared Africa's slyest empire builder: Communist China.
The two Sudans' complex background helps illustrate China's emerging diplomatic quandaries in resource-rich but politically fractured sub-Saharan Africa. In July 2011, South Sudan separated from Sudan. Independence, the result of a legitimate southern plebiscite (guaranteed by the 2005 peace agreement that ended the north-south civil war), left South Sudan with 75 percent of the former united Sudan's oil fields. Southern independence cost the (northern) Sudan government in Khartoum millions in royalty revenue. It could also cost Khartoum clout with China. China is a major buyer of Sudanese oil -- north, south, wherever. And more on that in a moment.
The 2005 peace deal did not fully demarcate the Sudan-South Sudan border. In May 2011, Khartoum's forces, backed by tanks and heavy artillery, attacked the disputed Abyei region. That attack purposefully threatened the south's oil fields. Tens of thousands of pro-south Abyei residents fled south.
Since independence, the slow war between the Sudans has continued, with Sudan, the stronger military power, bullying and bloodying its oil-rich but geographically isolated southern neighbor. Both sides accuse the other of supporting rebel groups. South Sudan accuses the north of fomenting cattle raiding wars among southern tribes; there's reason to believe the charge. The north says the south supports rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, two border states where many tribespeople definitely prefer Black African South Sudan to Arabized, Muslim Khartoum. The south says it does not support the anti-Khartoum rebels.
Khartoum controls the pipeline and seaport through which South Sudan exports its oil and has charged such high transport fees that in January the south said it would quit producing oil.
Oil-buying China has urged the Sudans to end their dispute -- and keep pumping. China's domestic political stability depends on expanding wealth; its economy needs African oil and ore. So China's African empire builders have an operating plan. As Chinese politburo member Jia Qinglin recently told a meeting of the African Union, "China will firmly support African countries in their efforts to uphold sovereignty and independence and resolve African issues on their own."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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