By Christophe Ayad
April 25, 2006 (PARIS) — Is the civil war in Chad a conflict between major powers, for oil? This is a topical question since Beijing stands accused of having helped and armed the rebels of the United Front for Change (FUC,) who carried out a bloodthirsty raid on the Chadian capital on 13 April. [President] Idriss Deby, helped by France, repulsed the assault amid violent fighting.
- A Chadian rebel soldier rests against his weapon in a camp on the Sudan-Chad border in this February 10, 2006.
According to the Chadian president, the FUC is merely the armed extension of Sudan, which is apparently trying to establish in Ndjamena a regime less favourably disposed to the rebels of Darfur. The latter, who have been at war with Khartoum for the past three years, often use Chad - where there are 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur - as a rear base.
Many sources agree that Sudan’s support for the Chadian rebellion is an established fact, as is Chad’s for the rebellion in Darfur. If this war between neighbours via interposed rebellions is no surprise, what would Beijing stand to gain from supplying weapons and ATVs to the FUC, as the latest edition of Le Journal du Dimanche claims, citing an anonymous Sudanese source?
In fact a huge strategic game is taking place in the heart of Africa for control of black gold. Beijing already buys 10 per cent of its oil imports from Sudan, where China, together with Malaysia, controls a large proportion of the output, which increased to 500,000 barrels a day last week. This oil is exported to China from Port Sudan, via a pipeline constructed by... China. In exchange, Beijing has granted a major loan as direct budgetary aid to Khartoum and has always "protected" Sudan within the UN Security Council, threatening to veto sanctions for the excesses perpetrated in Darfur or a complete weapons embargo.
While financing the FUC rebels, Beijing apparently has its attention focused on Chadian oil (200,000 barrels a day,) extracted in the South of the country by a US-Malaysian consortium and conveyed to the United States via the Cameroonian port of Kribi, in the Gulf of Guinea. A more favourably disposed government in Ndjamena could grant oil permits and authorize an oil pipeline joining southern Chad and Sudan in order to reverse the flow of black gold. China apparently also has an interest in the subsoil of Darfur, which might harbour fossil fuels So it seems that the war between Washington and Beijing has already begun, amid the sands of Africa...
Though nobody challenges this geopolitical analysis, Beijing’s degree of involvement remains to be established. "There is for the present no proof of the Chinese government’s involvement," one French official said, adding that Beijing probably did not appreciate Chad’s recognition of Taiwan.
Such an involvement by China would be a first, particularly since Beijing does not want a direct conflict with France in Africa. It is not impossible, however, that a private Chinese oil firm has dealings with the Chadian rebels. The Chinese have already supported ethnic cleansing operations in the oil areas of southern Sudan. More likely, China has turned a blind eye to its Sudanese ally, which produces weapons - under Chinese licence - and supplies them to the FUC. Hitherto Beijing has never had cause to complain about Khartoum’s initiatives.
Original text in Frech is availabe at L’ombre de Pékin sur le conflit Tchad-Soudan