China’s Role in Sudan’s Conflict: Prospects and Limitations
Sudan is currently experiencing intense military clashes between two factions, marking the fourth week of armed conflict. While previous peace attempts have failed, China’s involvement in Sudan presents an opportunity for mediation. However, there are three key factors limiting China’s role: its preference to avoid internal conflicts, diminishing interests in Sudan, and the complex geopolitical nature of the conflict.
The China-Sudan relationship dates back to the 1950s, with significant economic ties established in the 1970s. China has traditionally favored Sudanese-led solutions, emphasizing its adherence to the principle of sovereignty to differentiate itself from Western interventionism. Despite Western criticism, China expanded its presence in Sudan, particularly in the oil sector, when the United States blacklisted the country in 1993.
After the ouster of longtime ruler Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, China’s leverage in Sudan has diminished as succeeding regimes marginalized its involvement. In recent peace negotiations, China has been absent, with regional powers and the Quad taking the lead. Nonetheless, China remains Sudan’s second-largest trading partner, with substantial investments in the mining industry.
China could play a pivotal role in Sudan’s peace process due to its historical ties and operational capacity. It could act as a neutral mediator, promoting dialogue and requesting ceasefires and safe passage for refugees. China’s economic interests in Sudan, as well as its strategic presence in the Red Sea region, provide incentives for its involvement.
However, there are challenges to China’s engagement. Its economic-focused approach may hinder addressing political and democratic demands. China’s diminishing economic interest in Sudan following the split of South Sudan could limit its capacity and motivation to engage warring factions. Moreover, Sudan’s complex geopolitical situation, involving neighboring countries with their own challenges, poses additional obstacles.
For China to make a meaningful impact, it must navigate these complexities and balance non-interference with the realities on the ground. Collaboration with the African Union, which has been more responsive to China, could be beneficial. China has the potential to contribute to Sudan’s stability and transitional justice, but the ball is now in China’s court to deliver on its peace-making diplomacy vision.