Why China Is So Invested In South Sudan's Future

Is it naked imperialism in pursuit of the country's vast oil reserves or a genuine effort to bring peace to help end a brutal conflict?

06/23/2016 08:51 am ET

Nowhere else in Africa do China's financial, diplomatic and geopolitical interests confront as much risk as they do in South Sudan. Beijing has invested billions of dollars in the country's oil sector, deployed about 1,000 troops to serve as U.N. peacekeepers and committed considerable diplomatic capital to help resolve the ongoing civil/ethnic war.

Even though Beijing has repeatedly sent its most senior Africa diplomats to help broker a cease-fire and committed vast sums of money for investment and development, none of it seems like it will do much to slow South Sudan's seemingly inevitable decline to becoming the world's newest failed state.

The destruction this conflict has caused is staggering. Some 50,000 are believed to have been killed in the two-year civil war, many by some of the 16,000 child soldiers who have been forcibly conscripted by both sides. At least a quarter of a million people are on the move, fleeing the combined threats of war, drought and famine. 

A child stands in front of the makeshift tents where she and others live next to shipping containers at a U.N. compound which has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, in Juba, South Sudan.

Even against these seemingly insurmountable challenges, Beijing's point man for South Sudan remains stubbornly upbeat. “We as a government are cautiously optimistic about the future of South Sudan," Zhong Jianhua, China's special representative on African Affairs, said during a May 2016 interview in Beijing. "The country’s leaders must remember that peace and security are essential for the growth of the people and the economy.” 

So why is China so committed to South Sudan? It probably has something to do with money and oil, but that doesn't explain everything because for a country as large as China, the billions invested in South Sudan represents a relatively small piece of a truly massive global investment portfolio. So what is it?

Independent journalist and Guardian UK columnist Antony Loewenstein traveled to South Sudan in 2015 to cover the fighting. While in Juba, he also learned a lot more about what the Chinese are doing (or not)  in South Sudan. Antony joins Eric & Cobus -- in the podcast above -- to discuss the findings from his reporting assignment and whether he shares Ambassador Zhong's optimism for the future of the country.

What do you think of China's engagement in South Sudan? Naked imperialism in pursuit of the country's vast oil reserves or a genuine effort to bring peace to help end a brutal conflict? Join the discussion:

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