By Alex Fielding, @alexpfielding
This article is cross-posted from the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, with thanks to Jill Stoddard and James Bowen.
South Sudan last week had the unenviable distinction of being ranked the world’s most fragile state for the second year running. With the country’s politically and ethnically driven conflict degenerating into civil war since December 2013, mediation efforts by the eight-country East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and pressure by the United States, United Kingdom, and Norwegian “troika” have continually failed to achieve a lasting ceasefire.
As well as inflicting terrible tragedies on the people of South Sudan, with over 50,000 killed, 1.4 million displaced and 40% of the population facing acute hunger, the continuing instability is posing significant challenges for international actors. Most recently, the scale of the crisis has drawn China, as a rising regional power, but otherwise reluctant intervenor in other states’ internal affairs, firmly into play.
China’s recent rise in Africa relative to the West has generated much attention. It has become the continent’s largest trading partner by far, with over 160 billion USD in trade in 2013 alone and more than a million Chinese nationals moving to Africa in the last decade.
With its extensive oil and infrastructure investments in South Sudan and similar economic leverage on nearby Sudan, Uganda, and other regional actors, China has engaged in a form of business-driven diplomacy that the US and its allies will struggle to match. South Sudan accounts for 5% of China’s crude oil imports and the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation holds a 40% stake in three of the country’s largest oil fields. China has also been quietly ramping up its African humanitarian aid, pledging emergency relief worth at least 21 million USD to South Sudan as of October 2014.