Chinese maintain influence in Sudan as US delays lifting of sanctions
London- China has been consolidating its economic, military and political foothold in Africa just as the United States delayed a decision on whether to permanently lift economic sanctions on Sudan.
China’s first permanent overseas military deployment in almost six decades has set sail for Djibouti, marking the first time a long-term garrison of the People’s Liberation Army was established beyond China’s borders since its withdrawal from North Korea in 1958.
This follows the Chinese Navy’s anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden in 2012 and China’s foreign deployment of combat troops in 2015 as part of a UN peacekeeping mission to South Sudan. Analysts said Beijing is using the South Sudan mission as a testing ground as it stretches its formal policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries.
The Trump administration delayed a decision for at least three months on whether to permanently revoke sanctions on Khartoum, disappointing many Sudanese who hoped for greater leeway in doing business with the West.
Further complicating the picture is the Qatar crisis, with reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Egypt asked Washington to delay the lifting of sanctions on Sudan to pressure Khartoum to sever relations with Doha. The four countries accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist terrorist groups and Iran.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour dismissed the reports, saying Khartoum backed Kuwait’s attempt to mediate a solution to the Qatar crisis.
Beijing has abstained from taking sides in the Qatar dispute. Saudi Arabia is China’s top trade partner in the Middle East and the UAE is the largest market in the region for Chinese goods.
The absence of US businesses in Sudan allows China a dominant position. Sudan was the first country to recognise China in 1959 and Beijing is the biggest investor there while expanding its footprint across Africa. Sudan signed an oil development deal with China in 1995, soon after US sanctions were imposed because of Khartoum’s previous ties with terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. China controls an estimated 75% of Sudan’s oil industry.
It has not been clear sailing for Beijing, which has failed to see the return on large loans it provided to Sudan.
“What is important to note about Chinese loans to Sudan is that they were contracted during the decade of the oil boom of 1999-2011, when Sudan earned an estimated $60 billion to $70 billion while at the same time borrowing billions from China,” said Suliman Baldo, a senior adviser at the Enough Project, a US-based human rights group.
“It’s important to know also that many of the projects for which the loans were contracted didn’t materialise. Sudan has reportedly fallen behind in repayment of instalments that came for payment, causing China to suspend new loans. The main reason for these anomalies is grand corruption and mismanagement of development projects.”
The independence of South Sudan in 2011 forced Beijing to recalibrate its policy, given much of the region’s oil was in the world’s newest country, which was soon mired in civil conflict.
“Sudan was the Chinese oil industry’s first overseas success and retains symbolic importance. It was there that China’s oil corporation and its subsidiaries cut their teeth on international operations, proved their mettle and gained operational experience,” said a report titled “China’s Foreign Policy Experiment in South Sudan” by the International Crisis Group.
“When South Sudan’s civil war broke out in late 2013, Chinese advocates of a more flexible interpretation of the non-intervention policy saw an opportunity to try new approaches to protect their nation’s interests,” the report said.
Luke Patey, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said Beijing’s policy of dealing only with Khartoum backfired. “Oil revenues in Sudan reinforced longstanding practices of economic mismanagement, political patronage, militarisation and corruption of the Sudanese elite in Khartoum and oil companies became the targets for disenfranchised groups,” he argues in a forthcoming article, the Financial Times reported.
Beijing’s base in Djibouti, which opened the same week that China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, made its first port of call outside of mainland China with a voyage to Hong Kong, has important regional implications, not least the scope for future conflict.
Djibouti already hosts US and French military forces and Saudi Arabia is to open a base there. The UAE has a base in Eritrea and is planning another in Somaliland.
“All these parties within a stretch of coast a few hundred kilometres long… don’t need to rub up against each other at the moment but you could easily see a situation in which these parties get a lot more antagonistic towards each other,” Edward Paice, director of the Africa Research Institute, told the Cipher Brief, an online security news site.