President Hu Jintao welcomes his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir at a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday, June 29, 2011. [China Daily]
BEIJING – China said on Wednesday that relations with Sudan would remain friendly regardless of changes in the international situation or in Sudan’s domestic affairs.
The support, together with the warm welcome extended to visiting Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, comes at a critical time as the African nation prepares for its south to secede in just 10 days and a number of issues, including border disputes and division of resources, remain unresolved.
Hosting al-Bashir at the Great Hall of the People, President Hu Jintao said that China hoped north and south Sudan could resolve their problems through dialogue and become friendly neighbors.
Sudan endured decades of civil war until 2005, when a peace agreement was signed leading to January’s referendum in southern Sudan which saw a 98 percent vote in favor of independence.
The split means that the northern government in Khartoum will lose three-quarters of the country’s oil output, about 500,000 barrels a day, according to Reuters.
China has been a major partner in both the political and economic sectors in Sudan, which has been under Western sanctions for several years.
But China has also been building ties with the emerging state in southern Sudan, and several high-ranking officials have visited China.
In an interview with Xinhua News Agency ahead of the visit, al-Bashir insisted that southern independence “will not affect the relationship” between Beijing and Khartoum, hailing China as a model “partner”.
“China will firmly pursue a friendly policy toward Sudan,” a press release by the Foreign Ministry quoted Hu as saying during Wednesday’s meeting with al-Bashir. “No matter the changes in the international situation and Sudan’s internal situation, this policy will remain unchanged.”
Al-Bashir said Sudan hoped to maintain stability between the north and south.
On the Darfur issue, Hu said China was ready to maintain close communication and coordination on this and other regional and international issues.
Al-Bashir said Sudan was committed to resolving the Darfur issue through negotiations, voicing his appreciation of the constructive role China had played in pushing for a peaceful resolution on the issue.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told reporters later on Wednesday that Sudan is now facing an “historic situation” and the China visit will maintain and enhance the traditionally good relations between the two countries.
There is also a need to reaffirm that although Sudan is going through major changes “its political course with China remains unchanged,” he said.
As for investments by Chinese companies in Sudan, “those engagements and agreements will be respected”, he said.
Despite criticism by some Western politicians of al-Bashir’s visit, the global community is also hoping that it may provide an opportunity to solve at least some of the issues plaguing the region.
Some observers believe China could play an important role in this process.
The International Affairs Review, in a June 28 essay published on its website entitled “China’s Big Chance: How the Dragon Can Bring Peace to Sudan”, said while “the Western powers and international organizations, with few carrots or sticks left in their arsenal, find their ability to influence the north increasingly enervated, China still holds sway in Khartoum, and the … trip by al-Bashir to Beijing could provide an important opportunity for that country to play a positive role in easing the crisis in Sudan”.
The essay said Sudan presents an opportunity for China to set a defining precedent.
The essay also reasoned that “continued violence in the African country puts at risk both China’s sizable investment in the country and its domestic energy security. Listening and responding to these concerns is the sensible choice for the Sudanese government”.
Chinese analysts also said that how China engages with both sides in Sudan could become a model applicable to other conflict zones, such as Libya.
Instead of imposing sanctions, China’s engagement with both sides on the basis of non-interference will give political reconciliation an opportunity, said He Wenping, director of the African studies department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
According to He, given the opposition between north Sudan and the West, China can act as a bridge between Sudan and the global community. Sudan needs international cooperation in overcoming the difficulties of the south’s secession, and al-Bashir’s visit provides an opportunity for in-depth communication, He said.
China’s welcome to al-Bashir should not be seen just as support to a specific person or country but as a display of confidence in the future of south and north Sudan, He said.
According to Dai Yan, former ambassador to Ghana, the way that China hosts al-Bashir shows China’s adherence to its own principles and reflects respect to the leader of a sovereign country.
It is impossible that China will not deal with a certain country just because the West wants to put sanctions on a certain person, Dai said.
He Wenping also refutes accusations, made by some Western countries, that China is only interested in Sudan’s resources.
This is a case of double standards as Western countries extract far greater resources from Africa than China does, He said.
Hu and Bashir witnessed the signing on Wednesday of economic and technological cooperation agreements, as well as two loan deals including one for a bridge project in eastern Sudan.
Hu said China would continue to encourage Chinese companies to participate in the exploration and development of mining resources in Sudan.
During a visit on Tuesday to China’s State-owned oil and gas giant, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), al-Bashir praised China’s role in extracting his country’s energy resources. “CNPC has not only brought us oil, it has also brought us peace,” he told CNPC general manager Jiang Jiemin, according to a statement posted on Wednesday on the company’s website.
Cheng Guangjin contributed to this story.