Chinese arms fueling Sudanese conflict

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — Between 2003 and 2006 China sold Sudan more than $55 million worth of small arms, which, according to a report recently published by Human Rights First (HRF), are among the main ingredients fueling conflicts in that country.

Titled “Investing in Tragedy: China’s Money, Arms and Politics in Sudan,” the report stresses that the $55 million represents 90 percent of Sudan’s arms purchases during the period, which coincided with some of the worst fighting in Darfur.

Chinese exports to Sudan cover a wide array of weaponry including assault rifles, heavy machinery, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank weapons and mortars.

Between 1999 and 2005 Sudan’s imports multiplied by almost 700 percent. Beijing has used arms sales to forge a solid relationship with the Sudanese government to the detriment of the people of Darfur, who have endured a long and painful conflict leading to injury, death and displacement on a tremendous scale.

It is estimated that in the last five years, 200,000 civilians have lost their lives and 2.5 million people have been uprooted from their homes. The role of the Sudanese government has caused concern around the world, but not in China. International efforts to put an end to the suffering in Darfur have run up against the Chinese government’s unwillingness to confront the Sudanese government.

Chinese government policy hinges on that country’s voracious appetite for oil to feed its rapid economic growth. The oil reserves of Sudan are huge and China is the principal buyer: nine out of every 10 barrels of oil extracted in Sudan go to China, which has built pipelines and terminals to facilitate transit. China has obtained majority rights to drill in eight out of nine “oil blocks” believed to contain significant oil reserves.

There is nothing mysterious about China’s desire to maintain close ties to Sudan. China’s economy is expanding at over 10 percent a year and requires an estimated 6.6 million barrels of oil a day to keep it running. The country’s energy needs are second only to the United States.

In the last decade, the Export-Import Bank of China has provided Sudan with low or no-interest loans totaling over $1 billion. In 2000, before the crisis in Darfur, Sudan’s oil revenue was $1.2 billion. By 2006, when the crisis in Darfur had fully developed, those revenues had shot up almost 300 percent to $4.6 billion. Most of these revenues are directed to the Sudanese armed forces that are connected to the criminal activities in Darfur through active militias.

Oil is at the root of Darfur’s problems. As Siphamandia Zondi, director of the Africa program at the Institute for Global Dialogue recently told Gretchen Wilson on the radio program Marketplace, “Oil has become a curse in Sudan and makes it very difficult to bring about a resolution of the situation there.

That means that Darfurians aren’t likely to see a serious move toward peace, simply because they have oil. No one knows how much oil is in Darfur or how much could be coming out. And this will likely not be the last battle fought over Darfur’s resources.”

Despite a U.N. Security Council arms embargo initially imposed in 2004 and expanded in 2005 that prohibits weapons transfers to Darfur, the government of Sudan has refused to abide by it and China continues its weapons sales to its Sudanese ally.

If China is at all serious in contributing to an end to the conflict in Sudan, it must stop its arms shipments and military support of the Sudanese government and must support efforts under way to hold individuals in Sudan accused of carrying out mass atrocities accountable to the International Criminal Court. Its refusal to do so would clearly implicate China in the crimes now being committed in that injured country.

Cesar Chelala, M.D., Ph.D., is a cowinner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.