Sudan: China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Khartoum and Juba

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.


Chinese Foreign Minister Wraps Up Africa Tour

China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Chad yesterday, the last stop on a trip that included Zimbabwe, Guinea, Gabon, and Togo. Yang has made three prior journeys to Africa, and this trip reflects China’s continued engagement across the continent. Once again, economic themes dominated the agenda, and Yang ‘s policy statements affirmed China’s willingness to work with African leaders that the West finds controversial and its willingness to do business amidst political turmoil.

In Zimbabwe, Yang met with President Robert Mugabe. Yang “signed an agreement to give Zimbabwe’s government a 50 million- yuan ($7.6 million) grant and called for sanctions against the southern African country to be lifted.”

In Guinea, Yang spoke with President Alpha Conde and announced “two cooperation agreements worth 170 million yuan ($26 million).”

In Gabon, Yang sat down with President Ali Bongo Ondimbaand they pledged closer cooperation in trade, economy and infrastructure.”

In Togo, “Yang and his Togolese counterpart, Elliott Ohin, signed a deal for a six million euro grant in Kara, the ruling party’s home base and native region of longtime leader General Gnassingbe Eyadema, whose son is now president state media said.”

And finally, in Chad economic cooperation also took center stage.

On each stop, then, Yang announced new agreements and urged further cooperation. Many of these countries have already seen huge increases in their trade with China in recent years.

The differences between Chinese and American styles in Africa remain striking. A high-ranking American diplomat who visited countries like Zimbabwe and Gabon, where political turmoil has profoundly shaken the legitimacy of rulers, would have almost certainly concentrated on political themes, urging reform and greater democratization. China’s strategy continues to center on identifying shared interests (unequally shared, some would argue) and building ever-closer relationships with leaders, no matter how controversial those leaders are, based on those ties.