Roundtable calls on China to play more active role in preventing conflict in South Sudan and Sudan
7 June 2012
The Chinese government and Chinese companies are committed to promoting economic development in South Sudan, but could play a more active role in preventing conflict. This was the message from officials and civil society from South Sudan at a Saferworld-hosted roundtable discussion in Juba held on 30 May 2012.
The meeting was opened by South Sudan’s Vice President Riak Machar and chaired by the Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Marial Awou. Thirty other participants - drawn from government ministries, the military, embassies, NGOs and universities - joined the event and engaged in a lively debate.
According to Vice President Machar, China already plays a significant role in South Sudan, most notably in the oil and infrastructure sectors, and diplomatic relations between Juba and Beijing have improved since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Economic cooperation is set to grow with an infrastructure financing package in the process of being agreed.
However, while China’s role in economic development is greatly welcomed, some seminar participants argued that they would rather that Beijing first uses its political influence to help prevent an escalation of conflict between the two neighbours. Participants also highlighted the opportunities for Chinese companies to contribute more to peace and development, and take a more conflict-sensitive approach to safeguarding their employees and securing investments.
A key message coming out of the discussions was that while there are differences between Western and Chinese approaches, both are committed to supporting peace and development in South Sudan. This shared objective presents entry points for cooperation, which the South Sudanese government should encourage. More generally, civil society also has a role to play in promoting cooperation between traditional donors, emerging powers and host governments – in South Sudan and elsewhere.
Overall, participants welcomed the roundtable as an opportunity for a diverse set of actors to discuss what is an evolving but important issue in South Sudan. The inclusion of civil society voices was welcomed and Saferworld was asked to continue to host such forums to build a more sustained dialogue. A seminar report and participant list can be found here.
During the same week Saferworld also facilitated a research trip to South Sudan by four experts from Zhejiang Normal University, the University of Western Cape, the London School of Economics and the Institute for Security Studies. The group examined how Chinese commercial actors and peacekeepers were confronting issues of insecurity in South Sudan. The research findings will be published in August 2012.