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The Chinese Quagmire in Sudan

As fighting between the rival Sudans resumes and an all-out civil war appears increasingly likely, China is seemingly stuck in the middle without a clear plan. Despite its best efforts to calm the situation through mediation, Beijing has failed, so far, to prevent an escalation in violence and tensions in the region. Increasingly, South Sudanese rebels are drawing the Chinese in as partisans in the conflict by kidnapping (and later releasing) dozens of Chinese laborers. There is also growing official pressure from South Sudanese officials for Beijing to sever all commercial ties with the North.

Now, this could be very complicated as Chinese oil firms are deeply invested in petroleum extraction in South Sudan complete with a vast network of pipelines that pump crude to refining facilities and export terminals in the North. Nonetheless, South Sudanese officials, led by their chief negotiator Pagan Amum, are suggesting that if China is found to be “stealing” oil from their country then all Chinese oil firms may be subject to expulsion.

Just to make things even more interesting, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has recently discovered a sizable new deposits of light sweet crude right in the middle of one of the most hotly-contested border regions between south Darfur in the North and Southern Kordofan state in the South.

Beijing has a lot at stake in the Sudans. This is, after all, the first time that China has taken a lead role as a mediator in an international conflict. Moreover, as relations between Iran and the West continue to deteriorate, China is shifting more of its oil buying to North and West Africa. A war between the Sudans, not to mention the possible expulsion of Chinese oil firms, would no doubt complicate Beijing’s increasing reliance on Africa as a stable oil supplier.

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