Aleksandr Gabuyev nАлександр Габуев
President Omar Bashir of Sudan began his visit to China yesterday. The visit was not disrupted even by the fact that two years ago The Hague Tribunal issued an international order for his arrest for the genocide in Darfur. Nevertheless, China guaranteed its guest immunity. Beijing’s gesture is explained by the fact that Sudan supplies two thirds of its petroleum to the PRC and provides the Chinese giant CNPC exclusive working conditions in the country. Kommersant learned that CNPC’s production fields in Sudan are guarded by a Chinese army division, which employs inmates from the PRC.
The Sudanese leader’s trip to Beijing, where 67-year-old Omar Bashir arrived yesterday morning, was not without adventures. On Sunday, his plane departed from Tehran. Hhowever, the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry reported that Turkmenistan’s authorities, who had earlier allowed the aircraft to pass, suddenly reversed this decision. The Tajik authorities did the same. As a result, Omar Bashir was forced to turn around and return to Tehran. On the same night the Chinese and Iranian diplomats held an emergency meeting, during which they designed a new route for the Sudanese president through Pakistan.
The reason for Turkmenistan and Tajikistan’s stance is the fact that Omar Bashir was declared wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2009 on charges of committing genocide against the people of Darfur. Bashir, who has served as the head of Sudan for 22 years, became the first head of state against whom the ICC had issued an international arrest order. Since then, the president of Sudan, who never has done much traveling, had not left the African territory once. Last year he visited Kenya and Chad, and this year Djibouti. The ICC informed the UN Security Council of this, demanding that “appropriate measures” be taken.
However, China was undaunted. According to the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, China has provided guarantees to its Sudanese guest that he will not be arrested. “China has not signed the Rome Statute, giving the ICC special rights, and we have our own opinion regarding the prosecution of President Bashir,” he explained. “China and Sudan are longtime friends. Our pragmatic co-operation has already produced enormous results. For example, Sudan became China’s third largest trade partner in Africa.”
Last year, trade turnover between Sudan and the PRC amounted to $8.6 billion. The African state is the sixth largest oil-supplier to the PRC. For Khartoum, the partnership with Beijing is even more important as not only is China the main consumer of Sudanese oil (of the daily-produced 490,000 barrels of oil, two thirds are supplied to the PRC), but is also its main arms supplier and source of credit.
That is precisely why the Chinese energy giant CNPC enjoys unprecedented privileges in Sudan. One of the diplomats working in Sudan told Kommersant that the production fields developed by the CNPC are guarded by nearly a division of Chinese soldiers, who are serving under the guise of private security guards. Hard work, meanwhile, is carried out by inmates, brought in from China.
In the recent months, however, China’s risks in Sudan have increased. In January a referendum was held in the country, as a result of which Sudan will be divided into two states on July 9 – the Arab-populated north and the south, where there are nearly 200 ethnic groups. 75% of Sudan’s oil is concentrated in the south, but to transport it to the global markets they will be forced to use the pipeline stretching through north Sudan to the Red Sea. So, Beijing will be forced to maintain relations with both parts of the country.
Diplomats working on the referendum in Sudan told Kommersant that the secession of the south became possible only after China’s approval. By that time Beijing had established relations with the southerners and even built two hospitals there. Now, says China’s special envoy to Sudan, Liu Guijin, the future of north-south relations really worries Beijing. Therefore, Chairman Hu Jintao of the PRC, whom Bashir will be meeting today, will try to convince his guest not to undermine stability in the country.