China has been quietly expanding its business in Africa for years, but now unrest in the Sudans may be dragging it into the regional squabbles it has avoided thus far. While neutrality has served China well in its investments and business ventures in Africa, it may prove an unsustainable and even self-defeating posture, as the Washington Post reports.China has invested billions of dollars into tapping Sudan’s rich oil reserves in the south and building long pipelines running north, building a close bond with President Omar al-Bashir in the process. Since South Sudan became independent, Khartoum has demanded large fees for use of the pipelines, and the South has responded by shutting down transport, even planning to build new pipelines through Kenya to bypass Khartoum’s demands. China’s alliance with Bashir now looks like a liability:
In Juba, officials stressed that China should make greater efforts to persuade Khartoum to accept South Sudan’s position. “We are not asking China to help us. We are asking China to help itself with its friend,” [Sec. General of the ruling SPLM party] Amum said. He made clear that Juba would no longer tolerate China’s alliance with Khartoum.
Given that Sudan accounts for more than 5 percent of China’s oil imports, China has a vested interest in ending violence and conflict that prevents oil from flowing. China may now be forced to contemplate a new role in the region: broker for peace—and oil.