Column  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2011.08.04

U.S.-China Relations and Sudan

There seems to be discord between the United States and China. The White House meeting of President Obama and the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, caused some sparks to fly.

In the South China Sea, there was another clash between China and some members of ASEAN; that resulted in a meeting among the foreign ministers to relieve the tension. Although the United States was not a party to the clash and, therefore, did not attend that meeting, it exercised strong influence over the dispute, which led China to assert that the problem should be solved by those most directly concerned.

Since the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the relations of the United States with Pakistan have been strained and Pakistan has come to rely on China to build its naval base. The U.S. must be feeling uneasy.

On July 9th, 2011, South Sudan became independent from Sudan, and both the United States and China are eagerly assisting the new country in its nation-building efforts. The foreign policies and values of the two countries are so divergent that it is unlikely that they will be able to pursue their current modus operandi with respect to South Sudan.

South Sudan declared independence from Sudan after many years of a civil war that caused many civilian deaths and for which the international community held Omar al-Bashir, the current President of Sudan, responsible. Because China has always had close relations with Sudan, the international community had expected it to stop Sudan from abusing human rights; the community then criticized China when China fell short of this expectation. Amnesty International criticized China for indirectly aiding Sudan in its genocide. In the U.S., celebrities, such as Steven Spielberg, the film director, had called for boycotting the Beijing Olympics. The New York Times once ran an op-ed with the provocative title, "China and Sudan, Blood and Oil. The International Court of Justice has charged President al-Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, but none of that deterred China from inviting and welcoming him to the country.  China was subject to further criticism for pursuing this course of action.

China, in order to maintain its high economic growth, requires a large amount of imported oil.  In pursuit of growth, it offers other nations very advantageous trade and investment deals; the sole condition for China's extending economic aid to a country is for the recipient to abide by the "One China" policy. Such strategic approaches have been highly successful, leading to, in a short period of time, the development of friendly relations with and securing an oil supply from the new oil producing countries in Africa, including South Sudan.

For economic reasons, China maintains close relations with Sudan despite criticism from other countries. Chinese companies are deeply involved in oil exploration and production, sometimes even controlling local companies by acquiring a majority of shares. China also sells arms to those countries, making a handsome profit.

Now, with the independence of South Sudan, the situation concerning its oil has become rather complicated. Although the oil fields are concentrated in the South and 80% of Sudanese oil is produced in South Sudan, most of this oil is exported via pipelines through the north, i.e., through Sudan. These oil fields and the oil-related infrastructure were built before the South's independence and the north holds significant interests in them. At the time that the South declared independence, the two sides were unable to agree on how to allocate these interests, and the negotiation between them continues.

As for its relations with South Sudan, China will pursue the same policies that it has pursued with Sudan, and they will have distinctively Chinese characteristics. Juba, the capital of South Sudan, is said to be full of Chinese workers.

The U.S. is eager to assist South Sudan with its nation-building efforts, as its political situation is different from the north. Originally, oil exploration had been carried out with the cooperation of U.S. companies, and South Sudan seems to be expecting them to return.  The differences between the U.S. and China will eventually become apparent. The U.S. approach to nation-building is fundamentally different from that of China - U.S. promotes industry diversification and agriculture for sustainable development, and is critical of the country having too great a dependency on oil. This is in line with policies of the World Bank, etc. So it is possible that the U.S. will be required to offer some advice that the South Sudan government may not want to hear.

Imagining what kind of problems may arise between the U.S. and China regarding their policies with respect to South Sudan may not, at this point, be a very meaningful exercise and would be presumptuous. However, we should pay attention to the fact that the two major powers in the world, with differing policies, are aggressively engaged in helping build a small nation with a population of fewer than 10 million, to how their differences may become manifest, and to the two countries' responses to these differences. That may reveal the real status of the "G2" relations between the two countries.