The rivalry of gaining influence in South Sudan between China and USA has predictably entered a dangerous phase. In early 2012, this author penned, a prelude to this piece, entitled, "South Sudan: A critical battleground between China and USA." At the time, South Sudan was barely few months into its independent status, after six years of undergoing a perilous self rule. Both, USA and China were poised to reap the benefits the virgin country could offer.
As a result, the US, which for all intends and purposes, midwifed the birth of the virgin nation, has endowed some sense of entitlement to mould the nation in accordance with its self interest. However, China was already muddling in the affairs of the country from the ground, with much concessions at stakes, since it is already exploiting much of South Sudan’s resources and market. As such, South Sudan, a courted virgin is left to make a hard choice for its future survival.
So, it happened that South Sudan is forced to gamble in between the two choices, with much proclivity accorded toward China. Several compounded factors could explain the inclination of South Sudan to lean toward China. For obvious reasons, China was already on the ground, taking advantages of the available opportunities. China also opened up its comparatively cheap commodities for South Sudan’s import. These, coupled with China’s policy of non disruptions of status quo in other countries, managed to secure a place for Beijing in Juba.
As such, the overzealous USA found itself left out of a virgin country it helped giving birth to. Nevertheless, the World’s supper power must somehow get in at all means possible. In order to gain access, America adopted an approach of using a stick as a leverage. Several instances can clearly demonstrate how suddenly the USA turned belligerent against what it perceives as its brainchild: the Republic of South Sudan and its people. For example, in 2010, upon discovering that South Sudan purchased light weapons and ammunitions from somewhere else other than USA, the American administration grew furious and threatened sanctions, not just against South Sudan, but also against Kenya, a country America accused of facilitating the sweet deal of securing the arms purchase on behalf of South Sudan. The irony of the threats of sanctions against both Kenya and South Sudan came despite the fact that America agreed together to support the modernization of South Sudan military and upgrading its capabilities.
The example above and many others clearly show America desperation of having lost leverage over South Sudan affairs and that it can go into length to reassert its influence. For America, fortunately, the current crisis unfolding the country is an opportunity to get in. America is seeking nothing other than a regime change in South Sudan for that purpose. The phrases such as "transitional government," "government of national unity," and "no business as usual" are all euphemisms for regime change in South Sudan.
The recently proposed IGAD framework for the next round of negotiations, which has America hand all over it, actually is calling for partition of a junk of South Sudan territory. The proposed agreement gives out the entire greater Upper Nile region (Jongolei State, Unity State, and Upper Nile State). Accordingly, the region must bear special autonomous status to be under the control of armed militias, depriving Juba of oil resources as well as threatening the territorial integrity of South Sudan. As absurd as this partition proposal sounds, it is also a grand plan of Khartoum regime, which all along is eyeing the resources of South Sudan and has been in sync with armed militias of Riek Machar to carve an independent Upper Nile out of the sovereignty of South Sudan to be under the Khartoum sphere. America and its purports in IGAD are inadvertently doing the work of Khartoum, either ignorantly or as part of the elaborate plan.
This then begs the question as to where is the other giant already on the ground, China, in all these scheme of things. China, unlike its intrusive rival, the USA, has rather been playing a totally opposite role. With much at stakes, China wants to see a strong South Sudan government that is capable of defending itself from both internal and external enemies. Therefore, despite calls by USA for an armed embargo against South Sudan, China thinks otherwise. The security and continuous flow of oil, which can only be achieved through strong government defensive capabilities, is China’s primary object in light of the crisis. China is also continuing with "business as usual" (an antithesis of America’s regime change), by executing developmental projects in the country.
With the way things stand on the ground, the government of South Sudan propensity toward China will most likely increase. The government could likely adopt the China’s approach of keeping the armed militias at bay to ensure oil flow and even opt out of any USA sponsored negotiations that will result into partitioning of region of the country and further jeopardizes the integrity of the nation.
As the battle among these two giants unfolds, it is of course the people of South Sudan who has the ultimate say for the finale. However, under the current duel, China holds sway against the USA. The USA only leverage now over South Sudan is that it keeps insisting saying that America is feeding South Sudanese, therefore, the people of South Sudan must dance according to the America’s tune. Teasing somebody after providing them with food, whether they are in need or not, is typically Unafrican and is certainly not a right foreign policy prescription. Perhaps, USA needs to re-evaluate its policies, especially its role in aids assistance. Otherwise, by bragging about food, the Africans will depict America as a bully kid in a neighbourhood who goes around, coercing to play with other kids’ toys on basis that they will not eat his mom’s cookies if they don’t allow him to play with their toys.
South Sudan: A critical battleground between China and USA (I)
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org