Shortly before South Sudan became independent of Sudan on July 9, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir traveled to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The visit occasioned a lot of commentary about how China, previously a stronger backer of Bashir, would adjust to the changed political reality of a divided Sudan, especially since most of the oil lies in the South. Many observers agreed that China will seek strong ties with both countries.
Now China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is visiting Sudan and South Sudan in what appears to be a pretty careful balancing act. Yang arrived in Khartoum yesterday and is in Juba today. With final status issues between North and South still outstanding, including the crucial question of oil revenue sharing, the visit comes at a delicate time.
The BBC’s James Copnall in Khartoum says that since three-quarters of the reserves now lie in South Sudan, Mr Yang’s visit will be closely followed for any possible signs of a shift in China’s loyalties.
In a sign of continuing north-south tension over oil, Sudan blocked a 600,000 barrel oil shipment from South Sudan on Friday.
Khartoum said South Sudan had failed to pay the north customs duties for the use of its pipeline, refinery and port.
Southern officials confirmed on Saturday that the shipment had been released.
“Closely followed” is right. In Khartoum yesterday, Yang reiterated Beijing’s support for Sudan but also stressed, as Chinese officials have repeatedly done this summer, China’s interest in peace and stability between Sudan and South Sudan. The South, and the international community, will definitely be parsing his remarks carefully.