The International Crisis Group (ICG) has just issued a must-read analysis of China’s new initiatives in South Sudan. “China’s New Courtship in South Sudan” is a cogent, credible analysis of the tightrope Beijing must walk between Khartoum and Juba in the aftermath of the Sudan split. Most of China’s oil investments in the former Sudan are in the south, and Chinese companies are also salivating over the possibility of participating in the the construction of South Sudan’s now almost absent infrastructure. The ICG reminds its readership that the number of Chinese in the South Sudan has spiked over the past year. But, China has been a close ally of Khartoum in the past, and the memory of that reality is a factor in Juba and likely a brake on Beijing’s ambitions.
Nevertheless, despite its pro-Western orientation, Juba is open to Chinese commercial proposals, and President Salva Kiir is visiting China for the first time since South Sudan’s independence.
Given the ongoing, poisonous relationship between Khartoum and Juba that periodically threatens to morph into open warfare and produces fresh humanitarian disasters, there is the hope that China can play a more positive role than it has in the past. But the ICG includes a salutary caution that Chinese influence over the behaviors of Khartoum and Juba can be overestimated. And China always faces the risk of being caught in the middle of disputes between Khartoum and Juba, especially over oil.
Nevertheless, I think a Chinese commercial relationship with Juba may raise new, positive possibilities — so long as Salva Kiir’s government manages it carefully.