Sudan and China (Guest)
by: Danny J. (Guest Contributor)
Last month, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was recommended to be arrested by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC). Days before the actual announcement, China’s UN ambassador expressed concern, arguing Bashir’s indictment could hurt possibilities for peace in Darfur, a western region of Sudan. Sudan’s UN ambassador responded similarly, saying the arrest would lead to ‘grave consequences’. ICC judges are not expected to make a ruling on Bashir’s arrest until October or November, so it is not an imminent threat. (Note: There are currently no Darfur peace processes on the table.)
Sudan and China have a fairly good relationship, but during much of Sudan’s North-South civil war, Sudan and China only had limited ties.
Even after al-Bashir came to power in a June 30, 1989 coup, Sudan’s primary business during its Civil War period was with Western countries. It was not until the late 90’s and early 2000’s that American and European companies, for the most part, pulled out due to domestic human rights lobbying and Sudan’s internal unrest. Talisman Oil, a Canadian Company completely left Sudan in early 2004 following several pipeline bombings – it was one of, if not the last remaining Western oil interests in Sudan.
As the West was pulling out, China dedicated more and more to Sudan, and Africa. Currently, China has large investments in Sudan, both commercially and politically. Regarding Oil, China is ‘leading developer of reserves in Sudan,’ and currently takes between 40 to 80 percent of its production, or about six percent of China’s total oil imports.
The Indictment and China’s Policies
Once al-Bashir’s indictment was officially announced, the Sudanese UN ambassador is said to have sought help with Security Council members China and Russia. By July 13, both UNSC members informally pledged support to Sudan’s government. As of July 31, China urged the UN to suspend the indictment of Bashir.
The African Union, Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement, and the Organization of Islamic Conference have all called for invoking ‘Article 16,’ a measure that allows the UNSC to suspend the ICC proceedings for 12 months, renewable indefinitely. The US, on the other hand, is firmly against freezing the indictment.
Even with an arrest warrant, it is unlikely that Bashir would be easy to get, considering that two other arrest warrants were issued last year, and both targets still remain at large. Yet, the warrant on al-Bashir may result in positive action toward resolution of the Sudanese situation. ‘Western diplomats say Mr. Bashir could escape indictment if he ended what they see as impunity for two men the ICC charged last year over Darfur.’ This presents a way out for Bashir, but should he do so, the move would probably be viewed as bargaining sovereignty for safety.
So, why do Russia and China support Bashir and Sudan? The main reason is Sovereignty. Internationally, China acts in a ‘treat others how you would like to be treated’ sort of way. It has done this in two ways over the years.
First, imagine what China would do if a high ranking Party member were indicted by the ICC. A member would more than likely never get to that point, since China possesses a UNSC veto, but in the current situation, China can even avoid the potentially embarrassing situation of having to cast a UNSC veto. In this way, the Party solidifies the power it holds over its people, ensuring that there can be no one above the state, in much the same way the USA’s refusal to join the ICC protects its sovereignty. The state has the last word.
A second example of this type of action regards how China previously addressed Sudan’s problems in Darfur and the civil war in the South as issues Sudan must deal with alone. Think of southern Sudan and Darfur as provinces in China like Xinjiang, Tibet, or Taiwan. China occasionally has problems with these regions. If secession by these regions were to happen to China, it would want support for its policy of ‘unifying’ itself. Therefore, China argues that Sudan’s internal ‘territorial problems’ should be ‘solved internally.’
Military Aid to Sudan? (Where Exactly is it Coming From?)
For a time, this meant even militarily helping Sudan. The BBC reported that ‘Dong Feng Military Trucks,’ ‘Chinese anti-aircraft guns,’ and ‘Fantan fighter jets’ have been sold or given to Sudan by China, in possible violation of a UN arms embargo. The BBC believes that some equipment arrived before, and some after the embargo, and that the Chinese are training Sudanese to pilot the jets (yet another breach of the sanctions).
One problem with this report was that it just names ‘China’, not differentiating whether the actor violating the embargo is official government policy, the military acting of its own accord without the Center noticing, or the embargo is being broken by smuggling of Chinese Arms.
It is possible the Chinese government (like other weapon-producing countries) sold the Sudanese government arms legally before the embargo, then other sales were made after the embargo (with or without official permission) by people and groups with access to the equipment.
Chinese Peacekeepers … Demonstrate Beijing is Honoring its Commitments
Still, China has helped make some positive action in the last two years. Last year, China began pestering Bashir into accepting UN troops and other decrees to prevent further problems in Darfur. The UN peacekeeping troops are foundering, but not because of China. It is because other countries fail to send the number of troops they pledged. (The current number of peacekeepers is around 9,100, with a pledged total of 26,000.)
China has sent most, if not all, of the troops it committed. Considering how understaffed the peacekeeping force currently is, China’s fulfillment of its promises is more than many other countries can say.
As with everything, the relationship between Sudan and China is complicated. For both countries, the positives are great: Beijing gets more oil and another African supporter of ‘One China’; Khartoum gets money, at least some of which goes into modernizing the city and to a much lesser extent the country.
Unfortunately, weapons sales also play a part in the relationship, whether official or unofficial. This has helped exacerbate the conflict in Sudan (to be honest, even without Chinese arms, Sudan still would have gotten guns and Darfur would still be a problem) and made China lose some international face.
Sure, China dragged its feet in the beginning of the UN peacekeeping process, but that is the general nature of Chinese foreign policy: wait until you have to act, then act. In this case China balanced and preached noninterference, but changed position and acted when negative international PR threatened China’s face/image.
Still, it is important to commend the Chinese for convincing Bashir to allow peacekeeping troops, and for sending many troops themselves. There have been successes and failures, but China’s interaction with Sudan demonstrates how China is beginning to accept international responsibilities while maintaining dialogue, economic relations and involvement with its Sudanese friends.
Guest Contributor Danny J. has a BS in Political Science and International Studies with a focus on China and its politics. He lived a year in China and visited places, from Urumqi to Beijing to Yunnan, to list only a few.
(Note: Chinacomment is currently on vacation and without constant access to computer until the beginning of September; however, updates will continue at the pace of 1-3 a week since Chinacomment does have a sizable backlog of relevant material to post.
Also: Happy 08-08-08 08:08!)
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