China fights UN sanctions on Sudan to safeguard oil
For the past six years Beijing has been the Sudanese government's main backer, buying 70 per cent of its exports, servicing its $20bn debt and supplying the Khartoum government with most of its weapons.
Beijing oil imports jumped 35 per cent this year and its reliance on a growing number of rogue states to meet its needs is putting it on a collision course with the United States. Sudan and Iran together supply 20 per cent of China's oil imports, and if economic sanctions were applied to either, Beijing would be unable to sustain its high growth rates.
China was identified by diplomats as the member responsible for watering down last month's Security Council resolution which threatened to halt Sudan's oil exports if it did not stop atrocities in the Darfur region, where Arab militias are terrorising African villagers.
The issue will be put before the council again at the end of this month, when members will consider a report on progress made by Khartoum in halting the violence.
Sudan is the largest recipient of Chinese overseas investment and some 10,000 Chinese are working in the country. Since 1999 China has poured up to $3bn (£1.6bn) into developing several oil fields and building a 930-mile pipeline, refinery and port.
The UN Security Council is committed to reviewing the situation on a monthly basis. Given the stream of bad news, it could soon move to embargo Sudan's oil exports. China's ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, has already threatened to veto any such resolution, but diplomats say Beijing may have to give in to mounting international pressure.
Beijing is already under fire for its support of Burma, North Korea and Iran, countries also accused of breaches of international law. China was also singled out in the recently released Charles Duelfer report on Iraq's WMD, along with Russia and France, for breaching the UN sanctions against Iraq and subverting the oil-for-food programme. But China is almost alone in supporting Sudan. After the US imposed sanctions in November 1997, the rest of the world - apart from companies from Pakistan, India and Malaysia - have kept their distance.
Sudan's attraction to China, other than its pariah status, is that it holds Africa's greatest unexploited oil resources, even greater than those of the Gulf of Guinea. China has helped to boost Sudan's crude oil production from 150,000 barrels per day in 2000 to an expected 500,000 bpd in 2005. All this comes from oil fields in central and south-central regions which may hold only 15 per cent of Sudan's total reserves.
A failure in Sudan could severely damage China's shaky efforts to become a global player in the oil business. When Saddam Hussein was overthrown, China lost a key partner. Recently, two pipelines to import oil from Kazakhstan and Russia have been dogged by unexpected delays and problems.
Securing long-term supplies of oil, natural gas, iron ore, copper and other vital minerals has become the top priority for China, and it is investing everywhere. One new project is a 600-mile, $2bn pipeline from Burma's deepwater port of Sittwe, which will follow a projected railway line to China's south-western province of Yunnan. Another is the development of Gwadar Port in Pakistan, which China hopes to use to ship oil and gas from the Gulf. A pipeline to Xinjiang over the Karakoram Pass will follow.
By Jasper Becker in Beijing, Independent UK, 15 October 2004.