Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

China and South Sudan's Civil War, 2013-2015

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

China and South Sudan's Civil War, 2013-2015

Article excerpt

Introduction

The fighting that erupted in Juba, the capital, in mid-December 2013 devastated the high expectations accompanying South Sudan's independence in July 2011. A rapid escalation of conflict followed. Precipitated by a leadership crisis, this conflict had its roots in deeper tensions within the ruling Southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the oil-based political economy of the new state, which had been officially established as a regional government by Sudan's 2005 North-South peace agreement and then formally constituted as independently sovereign in July 2011. (1) Failure to resolve political differences between the SPLM's top leaders--in particular but not only South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and former vice-president, Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon--rapidly translated into a violent conflict with ethnicized characteristics. International efforts to respond to the growing civil war, led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), eventually produced a deal to end the fighting. It was formally, if reluctantly, signed in August 2015. By October 2015, the conflict had displaced more than 2.2 million people, including over 630,000 refugees in neighboring countries, and severely challenged the ability of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and a wide range of other international agencies to respond effectively. (2)

South Sudan has featured prominently in recent attention to China's changing role in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the process it has become a notable case study in the evolution of global Chinese foreign policy. Such views were advanced even before the conflict from December 2013. One leading Chinese analyst, for example, cited South Sudan as a "testing ground for China's proactive diplomacy." (3) It has even been argued that the Chinese role there in some senses opens a revealing window onto China's future in Africa, seen in the suggestion that "China's more assertive approach to protecting its interests in South Sudan will spread across the continent." (4)

This article examines thematic aspects of China's engagement with South Sudan between the outbreak of renewed conflict in mid-December 2013 and the formal, precarious August 2015 deal. It argues that China's engagement underwent a transition characterized by attempts to engage a closely related combination of political and security concerns founded in its economic interests, but in certain respects going beyond these to reflect wider considerations. Just as Sudan was a testing ground for overseas Chinese corporate oil development after 1995, South Sudan thus became a testing ground for China's political and security engagement. While for China this may represent a departure of sorts in its peace and security engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa, such engagement conforms with core aspects of international responses to the conflict and established mechanisms by which South Sudan has managed external partners. China's role, like that of other external actors in South Sudan, has been partly constitutive of but very much subordinated to the politics of conflict, requiring greater attention to the actual nature of China's engagement within South Sudan and, in particular, the politics of this engagement.

This article is structured into four sections. First, China's engagement is contextualized within the political economy of newly independent South Sudan. Dominated by oil, and turbulent relations with Sudan, this did most to condition China's role. Second, starting with the impact of conflict on its oil interests, the various strands of China's evolving security engagement, and some of the innovations in this, are examined. Third, China's political attempts to engage primarily state but also rebel groups in an effort to support a negotiated political settlement to the fighting were notable. Putting any serious further economic engagement on hold, Beijing directly experienced the limits of externally driven attempts to resolve South Sudan's conflicts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.