Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close

loading...

Guest Post: Chinese Troops in Africa: Protecting Civilians and Oil

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
December 2, 2014

The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters) The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters)

Share

Sean J. Li is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

China announced in September that it would send a battalion of seven-hundred infantry soldiers to reinforce the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), a heretofore unprecedented move that triples its troop contribution. It is suspected by commentators, such as Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, that this commitment was made to shield the oil industry—which both UNMISS and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have denied. The increased international profile of Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) and other commercial interests, especially in Africa, has raised questions about whether China’s long-standing principle of non-interference will hold in the future.

Oil imports have steadily grown to meet increasing domestic energy demands—the U.S. Energy Information Association reported that China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest net oil importer for the first time last year. As a result, Chinese NOCs have become international players in over forty countries since venturing abroad two decades ago. Some observers have criticized these NOCs as mere agents of the central government seeking to aggressively expand power and influence. However, the International Energy Agency found that NOCs actually possess a substantial degree of independence and discretion in their investment policies and operations, and concluded that they mainly base their decisions about equity oil marketing on commercial matters, rather than political meddling.

Chinese NOCs have accepted risk by pursuing oil in political unstable countries, such as Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and Venezuela, because established markets are dominated by Western oil majors. For example, China invested heavily in Libya, but events outside Beijing’s control during the 2012 revolution resulted in massive damage to Chinese assets—totaling $20 billion. China was forced to hastily reassign the warship Xuzhou from an international anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, to evacuate 35,860 Chinese workers who were stranded in Libya—resulting in a successful but uncoordinated mission. Similarly, Chinese energy firms and workers have long faced high degrees of risk while operating in other developing countries like Ethiopia,Angola, and Cameroonwhere Boko Haram was suspected of kidnapping ten Chinese nationals. Of the one million Chinese citizens working abroad—up from 114,000 in 2007—workers in Sudan and South Sudan in particular have been targeted for kidnappings in recent years. As more Chinese go abroad to visit and work, overseas citizen protection will continue to pose a challenge for the Chinese government.

In South Sudan, China’s interests are primarily in the oil industry. Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian oil companies dominate South Sudan’s oil sector, and China National Petroleum Company alone controls a 40 percent stake in the consortium. Although South Sudan accounted for 5 percent of China’s total crude imports before fighting escalated in December 2013, output has since plummeted by one-third and is now at around 160,000 barrels/day. Stemming from poor governance and corruption, tensions with Khartoum, and political competition, colored by sectarian strife, over oil rents, much violence has been centralized in oil-producing areas. China has diplomatically cooperated with the Western countries—Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to restore stability as an “honest broker” since the conflict’s outbreak. However, the country is facing the possibility of civil war, which would add to the ten thousand people who have died, one million who are displaced, and many more who face protracted humanitarian crisis and even famine as the fighting season begins again this winter.

The United States, which was critical in helping South Sudan achieve independence, has seemingly been less effective in bargaining with the belligerent sides than China, which has worked diligently with the international, regional, and local actors to reach a political solution. Skepticism has been levied on China for apparently wanting to protect its oil investments in the country, yet oil production is the major driver of Sudan’s economy, providing 98 percent of fiscal revenue in 2011. The West and China have recently achieved “rare” political consensus to work closely together to resolve the conflict in South Sudan through multilateral means, and China’s increased involvement in South Sudan should thus be understood in the broader context of its emergence as a global actor willing to protect its interests—signifying a gradual shift and foreshadowing things to come.

Whether China’s peacekeeping deployment in South Sudan is motivated by NOCs or central government guidance may not matter—seven-hundred troops have already been committed. Yan Xuetong, dean of Tsinghua University’s Institute of Modern International Relations, speculated after Libya that China should shoulder more international responsibility, writing, “the Chinese government learned that international responsibility is mainly defined by political responses to international crises, especially security issues.”

China is becoming a great power and as its interests and companies expand overseas, will continue to exert its foreign policy in issues that it once considered off-limits. Last week President Xi Jinping stated in a major foreign affairs speech to Communist Party officials that: “Our biggest opportunity lies in China’s steady development and the growth in its strength. [W]e should be mindful of various risks and challenges and skillfully defuse potential crises and turn them into opportunities for China’s development. …We should conduct diplomacy with a salient Chinese feature and a Chinese vision.” China’s deployment in South Sudan is  another milestone in its path toward greater global engagement that can hopefully offer stability to the global order.

 

 

Post a Comment 16 Comments

  • Posted by jeff jones

    An overly optimistic article on the growth of China’s diplomatic influence. The use of diplomacy is reflective of China’s increase in power. The pre-existing centres of power will come into conflict with China’s growing sphere of influence.
    Discussing this conflict before it occurs will reduce the chances of the conflict getting out of control. Such dicussions are the purpose and benefit of diplomacy. The practice of diplomacy has not kept pace with the modernization of the world and the world is sufferring for it. The days of diplomacy as practiced by Metternich are over but Europe (the west) still uses the same dead style.

  • Posted by brand name registration

    Everything is very open with a very clear description of the issues.

    It was really informative. Your website is very useful.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Posted by printing press services in dubai uae

    Thanks for finally talking about >Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

  • Posted by designing and printing

    I always spent my half an hour to read this weblog’s posts all the time
    along with a cup of coffee.

  • Posted by adres

    Witam,
    bardzo oryginalne miejsce, napewno chętnie odwiedze Cię tutaj nie raz, bardzo
    ciekawie piszesz twojego bloga – jest właściwie bardzo ciekawi
    Pozdrawiam
    Karolina

  • Posted by obrus okrągły

    Hey,
    bardzo fajne miejsce, napewno chętnie odwiedze Cię tu nie raz, bardzo ciekawie
    piszesz twojego bloga – jest faktycznie dużo ciekawy
    Pozdrawiam
    Tosia

  • Posted by elektryk piaseczno

    Siemka,
    bardzo nietypowe miejsce, napewno chętnie odwiedze Cię tutaj nie raz, bardzo ciekawie
    piszesz twojego bloga – jest rzeczywiście bardzo oryginalny
    Pozdrawiam
    Alinka

  • Posted by motocykle z holandii

    Dzień dobry,
    bardzo udane miejsce, napewno chętnie odwiedze Cię
    tutaj nie raz, bardzo ciekawie piszesz twojego bloga – jest
    niewątpliwie dużo oryginalni
    Pozdrawiam
    Żaneta

  • Posted by odmiany cebuli

    Halo,
    bardzo dobre miejsce, napewno chętnie odwiedze Cię tutaj nie raz,
    bardzo ciekawie piszesz twojego bloga – jest faktycznie bardzo
    ciekawy
    Pozdrawiam
    Basia

  • Posted by kredyty hipoteczne

    Witam,
    bardzo fajne miejsce, napewno chętnie odwiedze Cię tu nie raz, bardzo ciekawie piszesz
    twojego bloga – jest tak dużo atrakcyjny
    Pozdrawiam
    Karolinka

  • Posted by leasing audi

    The Russian Government has adopted a quantity of choices that contribute to the
    development of leasing operations.

  • Posted by ชาทีมิกซ์

    WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by
    searching for pre approved home loans

  • Posted by urzad skarbowy warszawa

    Ruch „Łazy”: Za początek działalności górniczej uważany jest rok 1835, w którym Wiedeńska Spółka Dzierżawcza rozpoczęła
    budowę szybu Altmaschinenschaft.

  • Posted by viral videos

    Since the admin of this site is working, no uncertainty very shortly it will
    be well-known, due to its quality contents.

  • Posted by Kanken

    I am actually pleased to read this blog posts which consists of
    tons of useful information, thanks for providing such statistics.

  • Posted by Diko Khatcherian

    Great information. Lucky me I recently found your website by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have saved as a favorite for later! about LED Outfitters

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required

Pingbacks