John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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South Sudan and the Chinese

by John Campbell
April 12, 2012

China's President Hu Jintao (R) shakes hands with Sudan's First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit in Beijing July 19, 2007. (China Daily/Courtesy Reuters)


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.

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  • Posted by Maduka

    South Sudan really wants to partner with the West, but sadly, the West has neither the intent nor the capabilities to meet Africa’s most pressing needs at this point in time.

    That is what is very disheartening.

    Everyone knows that Africa needs massive amounts of infrastructure ($100 billion per annum), but the West isn’t in a position to help very much here (financial troubles of its own).

    Another very serious problem is the orientation of most serious Western “African analysts” – they are usually liberal arts/social science graduates with fixed ideas of what “development” entails. These self-styled “development experts” cannot spot business opportunities that exist right under their noses, because they are too busy chasing “millennium development goals”, lodging in the local Sheraton and chasing the next tranche of “foreign aid assistance”.

    The result is that the Chinese have a seller’s market in Africa – wide open, no competition. The cost of not doing business with the Chinese is no infrastructure – as simple as that and extremely tragic. Governments that love China or hate China will still be forced to do business with the Chinese, no matter what the Chinese do.

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