Genesis of South Sudan’s Engagement with China: The Dilemma of Non-Interference in the Face of African Agency

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Akok Manyuat Madut
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The relationship between what would become South Sudan and China started with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 between the old Sudan and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Oil, a major trigger of the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), continued to fuel the violent conflict, which led to the partition of the largest country on the African continent. Driven by the opening-up policy as an important vehicle of the Chinese reform trajectory, China found itself drawn into the Sudanese conflict. Underpinned by its scramble to invest in the oil industry overseas and to acquire energy to fuel its booming economy, China took part in the conflict by supporting the government of Sudan militarily, economically and politically against the SPLM/A. As soon as the CPA was signed, China started to court the SPLM and newly formed Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) led by the SPLM in Juba. Surprisingly, the leadership of the SPLM overlooked the belligerent past and opted for cooperation with China. Why?

This paper will discuss a handful of issue: the pragmatic approach to cooperation in the light of the opening-up policy of China and its role in the war of liberation of South Sudan; how the realities of The Comprehensive Peace Agreement drove China’s quest to court the SPLM and GoSS during the interim period; how oil became a double-edged sword in the context of African agency; and role of China in the partition of old Sudan and the challenge to the doctrine of non-interference. This paper has mainly utilized data collected during fieldwork research in the form of interviews with so-called elites and the review of official documents.
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