China is “frightened” of what might happen if Southern Sudan secedes and must strengthen its ties with the region’s leaders to protect its oil assets, said a Southern Sudan official.
Oil-rich Southern Sudan, which gained semi-autonomy in a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war in which 2 million people died, is to vote in a January referendum on secession from the rest of Sudan to form a new country.
“A lot of wild rumours have been getting to them, that if the south separates, there will be insecurity, and if there is insecurity, their assets worth billions of dollars in the form of pipelines and so on will have been a waste,” Anne Itto, Southern Sudan’s minister of agriculture, told reporters today in the semi-autonomous capital, Juba, upon returning from China.
“I told China, the Chinese people, that if they want to protect their assets, the only way is to develop a very strong relationship with the government of Southern Sudan, respect the outcome of the referendum, and then we will be doing business,” said Itto, who is also deputy secretary-general of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM.
Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer, with output of 490,000 barrels per day, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
Most of the oil is pumped in the south, and China is the main destination for exported Sudan crude.
China is interested in expanding oil exploration to more blocks, Itto said. A senior delegation from the Chinese Communist Party is expected as early as October to try to “bridge the gap,” she said in a Reuters report.
“Whether anybody likes it or not, China is providing leadership in the development of developing countries,” she said.
“They are stepping up. They are funding, particularly in the area of agriculture and exploration of natural resources.”
China National Petroleum Corporation is the operating partner in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, of which it owns 40%.
The majority of the GNPOC’s concession falls in Southern Sudan territory, though the oil contracts were signed with the Khartoum government in the north during the war.