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China-South Sudan Relations: From Margin to the Spotlight

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As China is marching up its Pac, into Africa, (Rotberg, 2008) since the new century, its relations with some, fragile states, in Africa are increasingly coming under the international attention. Given the remarkable internal weakness of those countries, an obvious spread of widespread conflicts, and that includes, lack of social integration and ineffective institution, China’s engagement not only brings risks to herself but also exercise far-reaching implications to the efforts of international community to tackle,, state fragility,, in the African continent.

Chinas South Sudan relation is right a case from the point. As the youngest nation in Africa, South Sudan gained formal independence from Sudan on July 2011 through a referendum, after more than 22 years of bloodstained civil war with the North.

Nevertheless, China established diplomatic relations with South Sudan the same day when the latter gained formal independence. As the most important bilateral relations outside Africa for South Sudan, – China-South Sudan relations witnessed both warmth and schisms in the past seven years. Though mainly constructive, this relationship also experienced difficult times as a result of different standpoints, misunderstandings and interest conflict between both sides.

China-South Sudan Relations: From Margin to the Spotlight

According to the Chinese embassy in the capital Juba, China began friendly exchange relations with Southern Sudan in the 1970s when China decided to send the first medical team of agricultural experts in order to provide assistance for the South Sudanese people. In January 2005, China was one of the eyewitnesses to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the north and the south of Sudan, which ended the 22-years of the civil war and pronounced the formation of the self-governing which is the government of South Sudan. Since then, China has started official friendly relations with South Sudan and the bilateral cooperation in numerous fields has increased progressively.

Nevertheless, the bilateral cooperation never ended there but In February 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao made his first visit to Sudan and met in Khartoum with the First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit who was also President of the southern autonomous government. Then Kiir visited China twice in March 2005 and July 2007.

In September 2008, China opened the Consulate General in Juba. In February 2011, the Chinese government proclaimed its recognition of the referendum results in Southern Sudan and China was one of the world’s first countries to recognize the results. On July 9, 2011, when the Republic of South Sudan was established, China Housing and Urban-Rural Development Minister Jiang Weixin were invited as a special envoy of Hu to participate in the independence celebrations. On behalf of the Chinese government, Jiang signed the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the two countries with South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Deng AlorKol, meaning on the founding day of South Sudan, China established official diplomatic relations with the new country and became one of the first countries to establish such relation with South Sudan.

In addition, the government of South Sudan states in the Joint Communiqué that there is only one China in the world, which is the government of the People’s Republic of China and it’s the sole legitimate government representing China and Taiwan and it is an inalienable part of China. Correspondingly On the same day, Chinese Ambassador to South Sudan opened the embassy. From April 23 to 26 in 2012, South Sudan’s President Kiir made a state visit to China honoring the invitation of President Hu. During the visit, Hu held talks with Kiir, alongside with Other Chinese leaders, including Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Wu Bangguo, and Vice Premier, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee Li Keqiang respectively.

In conclusions, China-South Sudan relations represent a typical unequal relationship, which is structured by an outstanding capacity asymmetry between two sides. Capacity differences between China and South Sudan predetermine their respective perspectives towards each other, laying in mutual misperception and interest conflicts in their last interaction. What’s more, capacity asymmetry is a structural factor in china-south Sudan relationship, meaning that it cannot be overcome by the chosen action of the two countries. As intensely demonstrated by the evaluation of both China-South Sudan relationships the efforts of both sides to manage their unequal relationship only served to prevent a total breakdown of the relationship. In the foreseeable future, China-South Sudan relationship will continue to be structured by capacity asymmetry and plagued by resulting different perspectives, misunderstanding and interest conflict. Consequently how to properly manage their asymmetrical relationship will continue to be an important task for both China and South Sudan. On the one hand, China should continue to devote equal attention and resources to the needs of South Sudan, It’s also in China’s interest to actively mediate South Sudan disputes and South Sudan’s peace process, either individually or coordinately with other regional or international actors. On the other hand, Juba should continue to pursue its strategy to buffer its relationship with Beijing. To make this strategy more effective, however, Juba needs to improve the security on the ground as well as its human rights record, both of which can hardly be achieved in the future.

Furthermore, both Beijing and Juba should be more sensitive to the asymmetry nature of their bilateral relations. Both sides should be more sensitive to the perspective from the other side. Beijing should understand the fact that Juba is more exposed to the bilateral relationship between them and Juba’s high expectation on, it is reasonably comprehensible since this bilateral relationship weights more to Juba. In dissimilarity, Juba should be vibrant that its relationship with Beijing is not a priority for the batter and any idealistic demands will be turned back by Beijing. For Juba, how to manage its expectation on Beijing will be a delicate issue in the years to come, but basing on the legacy records between the both countries China and South Sudan will remain stable in only one condition which is enhancement of both bilateral ties and that should lay on mutual respect, mutual benefit and mutual understanding.

David Ceasar Wani Suliman is a Doctoral Fellow (Ph.D.) in the school of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University China, Majoring in International Politics. He worked as a Research assistant at Jilin University China; He Achieved Master’s degree in International Relations from Jilin University China, and correspondingly graduated with honors from Cavendish University Uganda with bachelor degree in international relations and diplomatic studies.

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Africa

‘Full scale’ humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

A “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday. 

More than 27,000 have now crossed into Sudan through crossing points in Kassala and Gedaref states, as well as a new location further south at Aderafi, where Ethiopian refugees started crossing over the weekend, according to UNHCR

The scale of the influx is the worst that part of the country has seen in over 20 years, according to the agency. 

“Women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground,” said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson, briefing reporters in Geneva. 

“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings”, he added. 

According to news reports, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has indicated the military operation that was launched in response to the reported occupation of a Government military base by Tigrayan forces nearly two weeks ago, would continue, although he said it was now in its “final phase”.  

‘Needs continue to grow’ 

UN agencies, along with relief partners have ramped up assistance – delivering food rations, hot meals and clean water, as well as setting up latrines and temporary shelters. They are also supporting the Sudanese Government in its response. But the needs continue to grow.  

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also supporting other humanitarian workers in its response, providing fuel for vehicles and generators in remote locations. The UN Humanitarian Air Service, managed by WFP, has also increased flights from three times per week to daily flights for aid workers. 

Since Saturday, UNHCR has relocated 2,500 refugees from the border to Um Raquba settlement site, in eastern Sudan. There is however, a “critical need” to identify more sites so that refugees can be relocated away from the border and can access assistance and services, said Mr. Baloch. 

UNHCR has also issued an emergency fundraising appeal, through which people can help provide urgent, lifesaving assistance to refugees. Click here to make a donation

‘On standby’ in Tigray 

Meanwhile in the Tigray region of Ethiopia itself, lack of electricity, telecommunications, fuel and cash, continue to severely hamper any humanitarian response, the UNHCR spokesperson said.  

“After nearly two weeks of conflict, reports of larger numbers of internally displaced grow daily, while the lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move in goods to the region, remain major impediments to providing assistance,” he said. 

UNHCR and partners are on standby to provide assistance to the displaced in Tigray, including basic items, when access and security allow. 

The conflict is also a major ongoing concern for the Eritrean refugee population of nearly 100,000 in Tigray, who are reliant on assistance from UNHCR and partners.  

“Potential for further displacement of refugees inside the country is increasingly a real possibility … The humanitarian situation as result of this crisis is growing rapidly” he warned, reiterating UNCHR’s call for peace and urge all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in Tigray.

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Russia to Build Naval Facility in Sudan

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Emerging from the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi a year ago, Russia will make one huge stride by establishing a naval facility in Sudan. This marks its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region. Sharing a northern border with Egypt, Sudan is located on the same strategic coastline along the Red Sea.

According to the executive order, the published document says “the proposal from the government of the Russian Federation to sign an agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Sudan on creating a facility of the Navy of the Russian Federation in the territory of the Republic of Sudan be adopted.”

It also authorizes “the Defense Ministry of Russia to sign the aforementioned agreement on behalf of the Russian Federation.” The document stipulates that a maximum of four warships may stay at the naval logistics base, including “naval ships with the nuclear propulsion system on condition of observing nuclear and environmental safety norms.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved the draft agreement on establishing a naval logistics base in Sudan and gave instructions to submit the proposal to the president for signing. The draft agreement on the naval logistics facility was submitted by Russia’s Defense Ministry, approved by the Foreign Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee of Russia and preliminary agreed with the Sudanese side.

As the draft agreement says, the Russian Navy’s logistics facility in Sudan “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries.”

The signing of the document by the Russia president shows the positive results of negotiations, the possibility of constructing a naval base in the region, over the years with African countries along the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.

During a visit by then-President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir to Moscow in November 2017, agreements were reached on Russia’s assistance in modernizing the Sudanese armed forces. Khartoum also said at the time it was interested in discussing the issue of using Red Sea bases with Moscow.

On the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Russia had a naval base in Somalia during the Soviet days. Currently, Djibouti hosts Chinese and American naval bases. China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. In order to protect its commercial sea-lanes from piracy, it has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean.

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Will South Sudan follow its northern neighbour’s lead?

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As the world watches to see whether President Trump accepts the US election results, few have noticed thatcivil war is looming in Ethiopia, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he was sending troops to the Tigray province. This imperils not only Africa’s second most populous state but its neighbours, Sudan and South Sudan, as well.

Sudan has had a good run recently and is in a better position to weather any regional conflict. In a surprise movelast month, President Trump announced Sudan’s removal from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SST)in exchange for normalising relations with Israel. The US is understood to have sweetened the deal with a raft of economic and political incentives, including humanitarian assistance and high-level trade delegations. It would also support Sudan in its discussions with international finance institutions on economic and debt relief.

Since the toppling of President Bashir in 2019, the new transitional government, led by Prime Minister Hamdok, has focused on reviving Sudan’s economy and managing its $60bn debt burden. Hamdok faces a severe economic crisis, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation and the worst flooding in decades, that has affected more than 800,000 people and destroyed homes and large tracts of farmland just before the harvest. Food, bread and medicine are in short supply.

Thesanctions removal means that Sudan can now expect substantial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bankand unlock investment into its fledgling economy.

This is good news for Sudan. But where does it leave its neighbour, South Sudan?

The international community had high hopes for South Sudan when it announced independence in 2011. But its optimism was misplaced. It never understood the Sudanese conflict that began with British colonialism and erupted after the British left in 1956. It wasn’t just a war between the Government of Sudan and the southern Sudanese rebels. Nor was it a fight between the Islamic North and the Christian South. It was a fight over resources and power.

South Sudan continues to fight. After its first post-independence civil war in 2013 and its endless cycle of violence and retribution, South Sudan is now as unstable as it was before it seceded from Sudan. To accommodate the different factions and keep old military men in power, the South Sudanese government and bureaucracy is peopled with those loyal to the former rebels.

Few have the skills needed to manage the country properly. They have squandered their oil opportunity, through mismanagement and corruption. With falling oil growth demand, oil is unlikely to remaina sustainable revenue source. This will challenge the South Sudanese economy which is 90% reliant on oil.

South Sudan is also facing multiple sanctions. In 2014, the international communityimposed travel bans and asset freezes, as well as an arms embargo. In 2018, the EU designated sanctions against individuals involved in serious human rights violations, alarmed  by “the outbreak of a destructive conflict between the Government of South Sudan and opposition forces in December 2013.” Most recently, the US added First Vice President of South Sudan, Taban Deng Gai to its Global Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the disappearance and deaths of human rights lawyer Samuel Dong Luak and SPLM-IO member Aggrey Idry.

If US foreign policy towards Sudan was driven by religious and ideological interests in the 1990s and 2000s, what we are now seeing is a shift to transactional diplomacy. There is no reason to think that President Biden would change course.

South Sudan is watching closely. It may be why it has instructed a US lobbying  firm to allegedly lobby for their own sanctions removal. It is also why it welcomed a peace deal between Sudan and five rebel groups in September, paving the way for increased oil export cooperation with its neighbour. 

But stability in the youngest African state is fragile. Even with a recently signed peace agreement between former foes, President Kiir and Vice-President Machar, violence is always lurking. South Sudan is plagued with the same environmental challenges of flooding and poor harvests.  The fighting in Ethiopia will not help. 

As South Sudan looks to the North, it will see a New Sudan, unshackled by the weight of its history and benefitting from international goodwill. Will this encourage South Sudan to look forward instead of back? Or will it unleash demons from the past? 

Let’s hope that the international community pulls itself away from Trump’s horror show and starts paying attention to East Africa. It may be a long winter.

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