Despite instability in the south and the crisis in Darfur, China continues to offer political and military backing.
Juba, South Sudan
Mercenaries are scooping up contracts here. Arms dealers are flying in and out on the daily flight from Nairobi, Kenya. And the rebels, theoretically out of work, are training full time on the dunes around Juba, South Sudan's self-proclaimed capital.
Up north, in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, weapons arsenals are filling up, talk is tough, and clear signals are being sent out that the resource-rich south will never be allowed to be independent.
More than two years after the north-south peace agreement, and four years before the expected southern referendum on secession – it's a matter of time, say observers, before the fragile calm blows up, reigniting the 21-year civil war that left 1.5 million dead.
"It's a lull in which both sides are regrouping for the new war," says a Canadian UN military observer stationed in South Sudan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the Darfur crisis that has killed more than 200,000 and displaced more than 2.5 million in western Sudan continues to rage unabated, helping Sudan earn the top spot on Foreign Policy magazine's "Failed State Index" for the second year in a row.
The Chinese are as much to blame for this situation as anyone, say critics, and not so much because of their economic policies but because of political ones.
Beijing has "a vested interest in the continuation of a low level of insecurity. It keeps the other major investors out," charged the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) in a 2002 report. The report argued that China welcomes the absence of real peace in Sudan as enhancing its business opportunities, whatever the cost to southern Sudanese civilians: "There is [on the part of the Chinese] an almost total disregard for the human rights implications of their investments."
ICG spokeswoman Kimberly Abbott says that "Beijing's foreign policy has significantly evolved. China now well understands that its investments in Sudan are threatened by growing instability in Darfur and the potential reemergence of conflict in the south of the country, and has started to lean on Khartoum. While not yet doing as much as it could and should to solve the Darfur problem, it is hardly alone in that regard. No country has done enough, and the crisis continues to the shame of the entire international community."
The evolution of China's position has done little to satisfy the leaders of the semiautonomous south who say they won't sit idly by while revenue from Chinese drilling in their oil fields goes mostly to the Arab-dominated government in the north. [Editor's note: ]
"This peace is ugly," says Daniel Deng Moyndit, a former rebel who now chairs the Government of South Sudan's parliamentary security committee. "They [Khartoum government officials] are not serious ... and any state is entitled to defense in anticipation of aggression."
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