South Sudan conflict and China in Africa

by Chris Zappone

Escalating competition between China and Japan has extended from East Asia to Africa. As the Globe and Mail described it, Africa is a region that “Tokyo has long ceded to the Chinese.” Plenty has been written about China’s aggressive courting of African nations in order to secure needed resources. Beijing’s strategy has typically been to build trade and economic ties, while not interfering in the local politics. Beijing’s focus as been “geo-economic” rather than “geopolitical.”

University of London SOAS Commonwealth Scholar Jeremy Taylor told Cold War Daily that China’s attempts to intervene in South Sudan likely shows an evolution of China’s foreign policy. China’s involvement in Sudan

demonstrates the ‘requirements’ of being a ‘great power’ – namely the need to intervene to advance your interests…There is a growing recognition from the Chinese that the oil will not flow if they do not get involved.

The problem that the [Chinese] face in South Sudan is that they have been so close to the government in Khartoum (South Sudan’s rival to the north, Sudan) for so long, they face a real perception problem. South Sudan needs their cash and investment but remains very weary of trusting them.

So yes, the Chinese are working hard to improve their image and built ties with South Sudan, facilitate the oil flowing and thinking very hard about their relations with Sudan – because a change in regime in Khartoum could change the playing field for them entirely.

Until recently, Africa was pretty far down Japan’s priorities as a nation. But even before Shinzo Abe’s election Japan had been active in peacekeeping and anti-piracy on the continent. Both of these international functions demonstrate the Abe government’s concept of “proactive peacekeeping.”

Japan’s renewed interest in Africa has gotten the attention of China. Abe’s tour of the continent overlapped with that of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to the sub-Saharan region and China’s envoy to the African Union Xie Xiayoan described Abe as a “troublemaker” in Asia.

The same article that Chinese activists “brawled with Japanese embassy security in Addis Ababa…as they took pictures of the embassy and protested Abe’s visit.”

Abe’s tour took him to the Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Ethiopia over the last week.

Embassy scuffles aside, there are lots of long-term implications for China and Japan’s resource diplomacy in Africa. How the countries handle themselves in South Sudan will be of particular interest, as their rivalry expands and crosses more borders.