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In Sudan, China focuses on oil wells, not local needs

China has invested billions in oil facilities and pipelines, but not in much else, say Sudanese locals.

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Li Haowei's girlfriend gave him a silver ring when he left Liaoning, his home province in China, nine months ago. Before he boarded the flight to Sudan, Mr. Li had never even left Liaoning before. "You are so lucky," his girlfriend said, then, enviously.

"I was happy to go abroad and see the world," says Li, an accountant for Petrodar, a multinational oil consortium. "But I did not know enough to know I did not want to come here."

Paloich is not a particularly welcoming place. The heat surrounds and suffocates you like a plastic bag. The dust in the dry season sticks to your eyelashes and fills your nostrils. Mosquitoes buzz in your ears relentlessly.

Li is making three times the salary he would at home. But he misses his girlfriend, he says, twisting his ring around. He misses Liaoning. He misses real Chinese food. Sometimes he can't sleep. Fear of malaria is a constant. He broke down crying when he read a tender letter from his mother last month. He does not like it here.

The local Sudanese are not too keen on his presence here, either.

Sudan's oil production averages 536,000 barrels a day, according to estimates by the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Other estimates say it is closer to 750,000 barrels a day. And there is an estimated 5 billion-barrel reservoir of oil beneath Sudan's 1 million-square-mile surface, almost all of it in the south of the country, an area inhabited mainly by Christian and animist black Africans who fought a 21-year civil war against the Arab-dominated Muslim government of the north.

The vast majority of this oil, 64 percent, is sold to China, now the world's second-largest consumer of oil. And while neither Khartoum, China, nor Petrodar release any statistics – this is generally believed to be an oil deal worth at least $2 billion a year.

China's National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is the majority shareholder in both Petrodar and the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, two of the biggest oil consortiums in Sudan.


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