In 2001 China identified Sudan as the springboard for its campaign to triple its overseas oil production within four years, despite United Nations sanctions against the Sudanese regime. Khartoum gladly accepted the offer. Since then Sudan's oil output has swelled to the point where it now provides an estimated 8% of China's total oil consumption. A Sudan specialist for Human Rights Watch, Jemera Rone, says China's involvement with Africa goes way back.
"Well China has had a presence an active aid presence in Africa for several decades. What is new now is that China has had an economic re-orientation and is developing as an industrial power and as such they desperately need secure sources of oil because they do not product enough oil domestically to energize and fuel there in their industrial revolution. This has caused an upward pressure on prices throughout the world and the Sudan government indeed is the beneficiary of that today as their income from oil revenue has increased far beyond what they expected."
Ms. Rone goes on to say that Khartoum is emboldened and encouraged by China's assistance.
"What the Sudanese government gets in return for allowing China to have a major part of the oil industry in Sudan is that they get a policy really of non-interference in their domestic affairs. China does take a very hand off approach to the human rights problems in countries where it invest and in fact it has moved in consciously to countries where there are sanctions or there are campaigns against participation of western companies in oil and other resource extraction."
Furthermore, Khartoum is using China's petrodollars to manufacture arms, many of them knockoff versions of Chinese weapons, according to Human Rights Watch Sudan Specialist Jemera Rone.
"The oil industry has been largely run now in Sudan by the Sudanese government, some Sudanese investments and state oil companies of China and Malaysia and recently the Indian state oil company has also come in to play a big role. So it is very disturbing that they have been not only generating the government desire to commit abuses to clear up areas for oil exploitation, but they also have been significantly contributing to the revenue of the Sudanese government. This is revenue that the government uses to buy more weapons and particularly aircraft which has really inflected a lot of causalities in the South as well as in Darfur and they have gone on an arm spending spree and also building their own arms industry in Khartoum which was not possible. The Chinese are very much involved in that as well and that is another very disturbing occurrence."
Recently, the U.N. Security Council voted to refer Darfur war crimes suspects to the court. Jemera Rone says it was an important step forward.
"Right now there are two things we have been saying that are necessary to reverse the ethnic cleansing. One is to prosecute or to investigate criminally with a view to prosecuting the people that are responsible for it. We just turned a corner in that with a very important decision by the Security Council to make it's first referral of any country or any situation to the international criminal court. They refer the case of Darfur to the international criminal court and that should go a long way although it will take a while for ending the impunity in Darfur. The people have been getting away with murder literally and they have no problem, no worry that the Sudan government would punish them for any of it. Now they have to think again. The long arm of international law will hopefully reach out and grab the people who have been most responsible for this policy and put a damper on continuing violence."
Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch says Beijing has so far blocked or diluted several U.S.-sponsored draft resolutions condemning Khartoum, and has signaled it will veto further sanctions.
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