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[Dehai-WN] Foreignpolicy.com: The Accidental Peacemaker

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 7 May 2012 21:26:55 +0200

The Accidental Peacemaker

China now finds itself on the side of peace in a brewing border conflict
between Sudan and South Sudan. But is it really committed to stopping its
old buddy, Bashir?


China did something very unusual in the United Nations this week: It did not
abstain from, much less veto, a resolution threatening to impose sanctions
unless Sudan stopped killing civilians in South Sudan. China has long
treated Sudan as a client state, and it stood by Khartoum during the long
years when Western powers tried to stop the atrocities the regime was
committing in Darfur. Yet, after a discussion that a Security Council
diplomat described as "substantive but not acrimonious," China voted for
<http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/sc10632.doc.htm> Resolution 2046,
which demands that both Sudan and South Sudan put an end to cross-border
attacks and return to negotiations.

China has not, of course, become a convert to human rights, as the current
standoff over activist Chen Guangcheng proves all too vividly. Nor is it
having second thoughts about its foundational foreign-policy doctrine of
"nonintervention," which has made China the defender of authoritarian
regimes the world over. A recent
ted%20states.pdf> report on Chinese foreign policy by the British group
Saferworld concludes that "At least for now, non-interference, stable
regimes and stable relations that are conducive to maintaining China's
global economic engagement, will retain precedence in guiding Beijing's
diplomatic relations with conflict-affected states."

But something important has happened: Facing a situation in which the
principle of nonintervention doesn't tell it what to do, China has been
forced to join the United States and other countries, as well as the African
Union, in actively trying to end a brutal conflict. China has supported
Sudan over the last decade because Sudan supplied China with oil. Last year,
however, when South Sudan became independent, Khartoum lost most of its
oil-producing territory. China immediately began courting the new country
with visits from senior officials and a blizzard of proposed investment
deals. Only last week, while South Sudanese President Salva Kiir was in
Beijing, China
-8-billion/> announced an $8 billion loan to the new country to build major
infrastructure projects. But though South Sudan has most of the oil, Sudan
has the pipelines and the refining equipment. So China needs both countries
-- and the rising spiral of violence between them, provoked largely though
not wholly by Khartoum, has forced China to get off the sidelines.

It has been instructive watching Beijing try to avoid taking responsibility.
Soon after partition, Khartoum began a savage campaign of aerial bombardment
against civilians in the border area of South Kordofan. Sudan claimed that
the region fell within its territory, and China obligingly blocked all
attempts to raise the issue in the Security Council. Sudan was in fact using
violence, as well as the threat of further violence, to improve its position
in negotiations with South Sudan on issues over disputed borders and the
sharing of oil revenues. Then Khartoum tried to blackmail South Sudan by
refusing to deliver oil pumped in South Sudan to its intended customers,
bringing talks over revenue-sharing to a sudden halt. This finally provoked
a visit from a Chinese envoy, who tried to encourage the two sides to reach
a deal. It was too late though; South Sudanese officials didn't trust
Khartoum or Beijing. This year, South Sudan simply stopped pumping oil and
then demonstrated its impatience with Chinese support for Khartoum by
booting a leading Chinese oil company executive out of the country.

That finally got China's attention. As one Chinese official
chinas-new-courtship-in-south-sudan.pdf> told a researcher from the
International Crisis Group, "We cannot just be bystanders; we need to be a
player. Can you imagine how any Western country would engage if they had all
these interests?" China didn't change its view of its own interests, but,
rather, recognized that it could not defend its narrow mercantile interests
through narrow mercantile means. China had become too central a player to
let others deal with the mess of conflict. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was
dispatched to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to meet with, and mollify, Kiir; in
March, a new special envoy for Africa came to Juba, the South Sudanese
capital, and made a point of meeting with the U.S. special envoy for Sudan,
Princeton Lyman. In late March, U.S. President Barack Obama discussed Sudan
with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the nonproliferation
summit in Seoul. In his official statement Hu
n-sudan/> said, "China and the United States should continue to exert their
own influence [and] encourage Sudan and South Sudan to resolve their
outstanding issues through negotiation."

At a very perilous moment for U.S.-China relations, Sudan is the rare
diplomatic issue on which the two can work constructively together -- an odd
prospect given the history of intense disagreement. Lyman accompanied
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Beijing for this week's U.S.-China
Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and he has been meeting with his Chinese
counterparts, presumably not only from the Foreign Ministry -- an
increasingly marginal player -- but also from the military and the Commerce
Ministry. Lyman is said to be seeking to enlist China in a Sudan "contact
group" that would also include Britain, Norway, and perhaps Ethiopia, Qatar,
and Turkey. He may also be asking Beijing to apply pressure on Khartoum to
comply with the terms of the Security Council resolution.

China is the key to any possible solution of the crisis. The United States
can exert pressure on Juba, but Khartoum is by far the more recalcitrant
party. Additionally, Sudan is profoundly dependent on China --
diplomatically, economically, and even militarily -- because China is the
country's chief arms supplier. The one thing that might get Sudanese
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to call off his militias and his warplanes
is the fear that failing to do so would damage relations with China. For
this reason, this week a group of 150 African and Middle Eastern human
rights organizations sent a
.html> joint letter to Chinese and U.S. authorities asking them to use their
influence to bring the violence to an end. The letter points out that over
140,000 people have already fled from Blue Nile state and South Kordofan. It
does not say that the number of Sudanese who have died in the violence
almost certainly exceeds the 10,000-plus who have been killed in Syria to
this point. The authors may have recognized that China would not be moved by
the comparison.

In fact, Bashir is much like his Syrian near-namesake Bashar al-Assad, but
worse -- more brutal, more cynical. He and his predecessors fought a civil
war with the south that took the lives of 2 million people. Bashir seems to
now regret that he allowed South Sudan to declare independence without a
fight. He has lately taken to calling the South Sudanese "insects," and he
<http://www.sudantribune.com/South-Sudan-will-retake-Heglig-if,42371> said,
"We will not negotiate with the South's government because they don't
understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition." That sounds
frighteningly like the prelude to a new civil war. Even if that's not
Bashir's plan, it could be the result of his actions.

How resolute will China be in the face of such a catastrophe? Not very, in
all likelihood. Thabo Mbeki, chair of the African Union High-Level
Implementation Panel on Sudan, is to report back to the Security Council
within 15 days on compliance with the new resolution. Even if he says that
Sudan has refused to withdraw its forces from the disputed areas, China is
very unlikely to vote for a new resolution spelling out sanctions. And
because Russia, still in a rage over the intervention in Libya, is virtually
certain to veto such a move, China won't have to lift a finger. Beijing
might be happy to accept credit for playing a mature role in conflict
prevention without having to actually confront its recalcitrant ally.

But as an increasingly confident China engages ever more deeply with the
world, the contradiction between its sloganeering "win-win" foreign policy
and the complex tangle of its own interests will become increasingly
glaring. Beijing has now put a toe in the murky waters of conflict
resolution; soon it will find itself wading in much deeper.


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Received on Mon May 07 2012 - 15:27:01 EDT
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