The president of newly independent South Sudan, in Beijing lobbying for economic and diplomatic support, told China's president on Tuesday that attacks by rival Sudan amount to a declaration of war on his country.
There has yet to be a formal declaration of war by either of the Sudans, and Salva Kiir's remark, made during talks with President Hu Jintao, signals a ratcheting up of rhetoric between the rival nations which have been teetering on the brink of war.
Kiir arrived in China late Monday for a five-day visit. He told Hu the visit comes at "a very critical moment for the Republic of South Sudan because our neighbor in Khartoum has declared war on the Republic of South Sudan."
China Central Television reported that Hu responded by saying that China hopes both sides will "cease the armed conflicts at the borders" and coordinate with the international community as it attempts to mediate the conflict.
South Sudan broke away from its neighbor and became independent last year. The countries have since been unable to resolve disputes over sharing oil revenue and determining a border. Talks broke down this month.
On Monday, Sudanese warplanes bombed a market and an oil field in South Sudan, killing at least two people after Sudanese ground forces had reportedly crossed into South Sudan with tanks and artillery. South Sudan reported Tuesday that eight more bombs had dropped overnight, although it was unclear whether there were any casualties from those attacks.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to press ahead with his military campaign until all southern troops or affiliated forces are chased out of the north.
China's energy needs make it deeply vested in the future of the two Sudans, and Beijing is uniquely positioned to exert influence in the conflict given its deep trade ties with the resource-rich south and decades-long diplomatic ties with Sudan's government in the north.
Both have tried to win Beijing's favor, but China has been careful to cultivate ties with each nation. Like others in the international community, China has repeatedly urged the two sides to return to negotiations.
Kiir, wearing his trademark black cowboy hat, told Hu that he came to China because of the "great relationship" South Sudan has with China, calling it one of his country's "economic and strategic partners."
Hu said he hoped Kiir's visit would enhance mutual cooperation and "promote the sound growth and cooperation" between China and South Sudan.
After their talks, Hu and Kiir oversaw the signing of six agreements, including a loan framework between South Sudan and the China Import Export Bank, and cooperation agreements on a bridge and a solar energy project.
Details of the agreements weren't disclosed.
The Financial Times on Sunday quoted South Sudan lead negotiator Pagan Amum as saying Kiir would be seeking Chinese financing for a long-planned oil pipeline that would bypass Sudan. The report said Beijing has already pledged technical assistance for the pipeline, which would allow landlocked South Sudan an alternative export route for its large oil reserves.
Jiang Hengkun, a professor with the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, said that if the pipeline is built, China would contribute heavily, from labor to loans.
"China will surely participate in the construction," Jiang said. "Chinese construction companies or oil companies can join the bidding for the project, while the Chinese government may provide development aid or loans to the South Sudan government."