Chinese gov’t welcomes S. Sudan’s ‘encouraging’ developments

South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir and a Chinese government prime minister Li Keqiang (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

February 24th 2020 (Nyamilepedia) – Beijing has welcomed “encouraging developments” in the South Sudan peace process after rebel leader Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir agreed to form a transitional coalition government.

Machar, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) leader, was among four vice-presidents sworn in on Saturday in the capital, Juba, in a power-sharing deal that gives hope to ending the more than six years of conflict which has killed some 400,000 people and displaced millions more.

“The Chinese side commends and welcomes these encouraging developments, especially the crucial consensus reached between President Kiir and Machar,” the Chinese embassy in Juba said in a statement.

Stability in South Sudan is important for China, which has invested tens of millions of dollars in the country’s oilfields as it seeks to meet energy needs at home. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) owns a 41 per cent stake in South Sudan’s largest oil consortium, Dar Petroleum Operating Company, while Sinopec, another Chinese state-owned firm, holds a 6 per cent stake.

China has also sent more than 1,000 troops to the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, and has not followed the United States and other Western nations in imposing sanctions on leading political and military figures.

“We trust that the relevant parties of South Sudan will resolve the remaining issues in the spirit of mutual trust and understanding, and start a new chapter in the history of South Sudan,” the embassy statement added.

China has offered to help rebuild the country, promising to supply a unified security force that is supposed to be formed from the rival factions as part of the peace process. It has also helped to set up military camps to accommodate both government troops and members of the armed opposition.

Since the peace deal was signed between Kiir and rebel factions in September 2018, China said it had provided diplomatic and other support to military camps and training centres including 1,500 tonnes of rice, 2,500 tents, 50,000 blankets and 1,440 boxes of medicine.

Machar was sworn in as the first vice-president alongside three others – James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng. Gai, a former ally of Machar who switched to the government side, was recently sanctioned by the US over serious human rights abuses. Nyandeng is the widow of John Garang, who led a long struggle for independence from Sudan before he died in a helicopter crash in 2005.

“I have forgiven my brother Riek Machar. I also ask for his forgiveness and I also forgive all those who still are holding out on this peace agreement,” Kiir said at a ceremony at the State House attended by regional leaders and diplomats.

After the swearing-in, Machar vowed to work together to end the suffering of South Sudanese.

“I reiterate my commitment to work closely with President Kiir to implement the agreement in letter and spirit,” Machar said.

The South Sudanese have seen more war than peace since the East African nation – whose oilfields contribute about 98 per cent of the government’s revenue – seceded from the Republic of Sudan in 2011. Kiir and Machar formed the independent government but disagreements followed, leading to Machar’s sacking, sparking a bloody war along ethnic lines.

They again agreed to work together in 2015, but the deal fell apart a year later following renewed fighting. After international pressure and peace talks, a new deal was signed in September 2018, but Kiir and Machar have had to push back two deadlines to form the coalition government as they could not agree on issues such as having a unified army and the number of states – highly contentious since it affects the control of oil-rich regions. Machar also wanted his security assured.

On Thursday, Kiir said he had agreed to abolish the 32 states he created in 2015 and revert to the original 10 states.

According to a report released last week on China’s approach to UN peacekeeping in the region, Beijing had used its “economic leverage” in South Sudan.

“China has used its leverage to encourage the government and the opposition parties to negotiate, to come to an agreement, and to implement the ceasefire agreements,” said the report by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. “It has reportedly used its economic leverage by signalling that it would be unable to renew and expand its support to the South Sudanese government and the economy as long as the fighting was ongoing.”

South Sudan had also provided an opportunity for Chinese soldiers to put their skills to the test on overseas missions and during armed conflict.

“South Sudan became a real-world laboratory [for China] to test the boundaries of its non-interference principle,” the report said.

Obert Hodzi, an international relations lecturer at the University of Liverpool in England, also said earlier that it was a way for China’s military to get the combat experience it needed.

“South Sudan provides ample opportunities for different segments of the Chinese army to practise, test their equipment and ability to conduct successful missions abroad,” Hodzi said.

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