* South Sudan President to seek Beijing's backing in China from April 23-28
* China squeamish with implication it should mediate over South Sudan-Sudan
* Quandary typifies China's commercial interests out pacing its diplomatic
By Michael Martina
BEIJING, April 22 (Reuters) - When one of your big oil suppliers splits into
rival states, that's a problem for any country. When you're China, with its
huge appetite for energy and a tradition of never wanting to take sides, it
becomes a foreign policy migraine.
China's balancing act between South Sudan and Sudan will take centre stage
when the South's president visits Beijing on Monday, seeking political and
economic backing amid escalating tensions with its northern neighbour.
President Salva Kiir's six-day trip comes days after he ordered troops to
withdraw from the oil-rich Heglig region after seizing it from Sudan, a move
that brought the two countries to the brink of all-out war.
For China, invested in the oil sector of both nations, the standoff shows
how its economic expansion abroad has at times forced Beijing to deal with
distant quarrels it would like to avoid. South Sudan gained independence
from Khartoum last year.
"We've seen Beijing drawn into a tug-of-war, as each side attempts to pull
Chinese interests in line with its own," said Zach Vertin, senior analyst
for Sudan and South Sudan at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
"But China doesn't want to step too far in either direction and risk
damaging relations with either of its partners."
That, Vertin said, is the reality China has to grapple with as its global
Earlier this year, rebel forces in Sudan kidnapped 29 Chinese workers. South
Sudan also expelled Liu Yingcai, the head of Petrodar, a largely Chinese-led
oil consortium that is the main oil firm operating in the new African
South Sudan said the firm was not fully cooperating with its investigation
of oil firms suspected of helping Sudan seize southern oil transported from
the landlocked South through Sudan for export.
South Sudan seceded peacefully last year under the terms of a 2005 pact
after decades of civil war, gaining control of three-quarters of Khartoum's
China's long-term support for Khartoum, including its role as an arms
supplier, had been a sore point with the South. But Beijing has expanded
ties with South Sudan, eager to tap its oil. China can also build badly
needed infrastructure in the country.
That has placed China between the two hostile nations, but also given it a
stake in preserving stability.
"This trip could come at a fortunate time, if China is able to bring some of
its influence on the South and push for peace. China can say to Kiir, if no
peace, then no development," said Li Xinfeng, a researcher of African
affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
CHINA IN THE MIDDLE
China recognises its clout in both countries puts it in a unique position,
but is hesitant to see itself as the key mediator, said Li Weijian, who
studies China's foreign policy at the Shanghai Institutes of International
"It (South Sudan) wants China to use that influence to help. China will
definitely put forth efforts, but this is a long-term dispute and it won't
be resolved simply as a function of China's involvement," Li said.
Some analysts say Beijing is in the uncomfortable position of being called
on by both Sudans, as well as the United States, to use influence that they
say is overrated.
Zha Daojiong, a professor at Peking University who studies China's energy
deals abroad, warned against expecting too much from Kiir's trip, which
follows a visit by Sudan's war crimes-indicted President Omar Hassan
al-Bashir last year.
"China is nothing more than a labour service provider to Sudan and South
Sudan. We don't have much clout, either through moral persuasion or through
financial incentives," Zha said.
The two Sudans, themselves, were no longer a critical element of China's
overall energy strategy, Vertin from the International Crisis Group said.
Sudan had been one of China's top foreign suppliers of crude oil, but the
latest Chinese customs data show crude imports from Sudan fell nearly 40
percent in January and February compared to a year earlier.
"The Sudans remain an important piece of the puzzle, not necessarily in
terms of net imports, but more significantly because the Chinese are heavily
invested there, both in the oil sector and in new opportunities in
infrastructure. It is as much about those opportunities as it is about net
oil imports," Vertin said. (Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Sanjeev
S.Sudan says troops bombed during flashpoint pullout
Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:53pm GMT
By Hereward Holland
BENTIU, South Sudan, April 21 (Reuters) - South Sudan accused its neighbour
Sudan of bombing its troops as they pulled out of the disputed oil region of
Heglig on Saturday, dampening already faint hopes of any imminent settlement
between the bitter foes.
The newly-independent South seized Heglig last week, raising fears of an
all-out war with Sudan, then announced it had started withdrawing on Friday,
following sharp criticism from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"The Sudan armed forced bombed our positions last night ... and this morning
with Antonovs," South Sudan's army spokesman Philip Aguer told Reuters.
"Last night we were in full control of Heglig and now we have almost
completed our orderly withdrawal," he added.
There was no immediate response from Sudan's army which said on Friday it
had "liberated" Heglig by force.
Tensions have been rising since South Sudan split away from Sudan as an
independent country in July, under the terms of a 2005 deal, taking with it
most of the country's known oil reserves.
The countries are still at loggerheads over the position of their shared
border and other disputes have already halted nearly all the oil production
that underpins both economies.
In Bentiu, a major town on the South's side of the border, about two hours'
drive away from Heglig, a long queue of military trucks could be seen. A
group of wounded soldiers sat on beds outside a hospital packed with
South Sudan secured its independence in a referendum promised in the 2005
peace accord that ended decades of civil war between Khartoum and the south.
Religion, ethnicity and oil fuelled that conflict that killed about 2
The recent tensions between Sudan and South Sudan have been fuelled by a
dispute over how much the landlocked South should pay to export oil via
pipelines and other infrastructure in Sudan.
Juba shut down its roughly 350,000 barrel-a-day output in January, accusing
Sudan of seizing some of its crude. Oil accounted for about 98 percent of
the South's state revenues.
Limited access to the remote border conflict areas makes it difficult to
verify the often contradicting statements from both sides. (Reporting by
Hereward Holland, Alexander Dziadosz and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Ulf
Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Sun Apr 22 2012 - 08:33:47 EDT