Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 23 December 2004

China’s Lack of Fuel Sparks Crisis in Darfur


By Michael Orona

Dec 22, 2004 — The atrocities being committed by the Sudanese government and its Arab militia known as the Jinjaweed has led to a mass exodus of over 200,000 villagers from Darfur across the border into the neighboring country of Chad. Over 70,000 innocent civilians have lost their life and over 1 million are internally displaced. The forced trek made by refugees on foot continues across miles of blazing desert and some of the most inhospitable territory to makeshift and formal UN camps along the Chad/Sudan border.

The camps are where those fortunate to finish the trek call home, while the most vulnerable, namely the children and elderly fail to complete the journey. Those that do survive, often arrive in desperate need of medical care, food and water. According to those able to survive the journey, the underlying reason for the atrocities is that the Sudanese government, along with its military and Arab militia, is intent on destroying its own black ethnic African population.

On a daily basis, helicopter gunships and Antanov aircraft take to the skies bombing and strafing innocent civilians. Government backed militia armed with the latest weapons continue to wage war in Sudan’s arid desert.

As the UN Security Council and members of the international community struggle to end the atrocities taking place in Sudan, one of the biggest obstacles to achieving peace in Darfur is the government of China. Sudan, a relatively poor country, is currently indebted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for nearly 2 billion dollars. In order to obtain the military equipment needed to continue its genocidal rampage, the government of Sudan has looked to investors in Beijing.

For several years Beijing, along with its state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation and subsidiary PetroChina has invested over $2 billion on oil infrastructure in Sudan and owns 40 percent of Sudan’s Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company Projects (GNOP), which produces an estimated 150,000 barrels of oil a day. In 2000, with the assistance of Goldman Sachs, PetroChina was scheduled to become the biggest initial public offering to hit Wall Street. The PetroChina IPO, which was expected to clear between $5-10 billion, found itself mired in controversy as funding allowed the government of Sudan to continue its 20 year civil war, and pre-Darfur campaign, against the population in the south. However, public pressure was not enough to keep the fuel-strapped PRC from investing in the Sudan.

Fuel Crisis in the Middle Kingdom

At the center of the PRC’s plan to increase its own economic growth and development is the construction of the colossal Three Gorges Dam. The project which is the brainchild of former Premier Li Peng, who many associate with the 1989 Tianamen crackdown, is designed to play an important role in reducing flooding and harnessing the strength of the Yangtze River for hydraulic power generation. The government hopes that the construction of deeper waterways and greater locks and gates will allow larger cargo vessels to transit the river and bring prosperity to the economically depressed rural areas of the country.

The government looks to the controversial Three Gorges project as a long-term attempt to confront the country’s ever-increasing energy deficit. China’s energy source has failed to keep up with the development of its industrial sector. In parts of the country rolling blackouts are a normal occurrence. Several cities have banned the use of flashing neon-advertising signs. Others have gone a step further and limited the use of stoplights and instead use the services of traffic officers in order to conserve energy. In 2003, 23 of its 31 provinces were forced to ration power supplies.

China continues to use coal as its main source of energy but within the last 10 years the country has increased its reliance on oil. It has become the third-largest importer of oil worldwide and the government estimates that the country will consume 600 million tons of oil a year by 2020. For the last six years the PRC has bought nearly 70 percent of Sudanese oil exports and supplied the Khartoum government with most of its weapons.

Oil Sanctions?

In the last 5 years, Beijing has poured $3 billion into the development of oil production infrastructure, including the building of a 1,000-mile pipeline and refinery. Investment has allowed the government of Sudan to fill its coffers and use its oil revenues to purchase the latest military equipment. Recent reports by human rights organizations marks China as Khartoum’s main military supplier. At a time when the violence in Darfur continues and an arms embargo against Khartoum is justified, the Sudanese government instead is allowed to update its military. Amnesty International recently reported, " The Government of Sudan has used increases in oil revenues to fund a military capacity that has in turn been used to conduct war in Darfur, including carrying out violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."

The two previous UN Resolutions aimed at ending the violence in Darfur has failed to include any mention of oil sanctions against the Sudanese government. In the last year alone, the PRC’s oil imports increased nearly 40 percent and any attempt to place sanctions of the Sudanese government would severely affect China’s economic growth and political stability. With China’s help as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Sudanese crude oil production will continue to fund the Jinjaweed militia and keep Darfur burning.

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