Sudan's decades-long economic relationship with China has almost always been dominated by oil. Yet this relationship has changed significantly in the past decade—first with the loss of oil reserves when South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, and more recently due to the ouster of longtime ally President Omar al-Bashir. This report, based on interviews with policy officials, diplomats, industry and security experts, and others, examines China’s evolving commercial and political interests in this vital nation in the Horn of Africa.

Sudanese demonstrators march during anti-government protests in Khartoum on April 22, 2019. (Photo by Bryan Denton/New York Times)
Sudanese demonstrators march during anti-government protests in Khartoum on April 22, 2019. (Photo by Bryan Denton/New York Times)

Summary

  • China’s bilateral relationship with Sudan was once among its strongest in Africa, based largely on Beijing’s pre-2011 economic interest in Sudanese oil.
  • Beijing’s public support for Sudan’s transition to civilian governance in the aftermath of the coup that deposed longtime President Omar al-Bashir has been cautious, though mostly successful in ensuring continuity in its bilateral ties with Sudan.
  • Attempts to balance its ties between Khartoum’s rival external backers, however, have limited Beijing’s ability to step in and encourage its various allies to act in the interests of stability or to play any meaningful role in bringing the conflicting parties together.
  • In the long term, because China’s commercial interests in Sudan align with its Belt and Road Initiative objective of boosting infrastructure links in the region, the need to protect its economic interests will increase accordingly—and has implications for its engagement with Red Sea regional powers and Russia vis-à-vis Sudan.
  • The United States and China have a mutual interest in political and economic stability in Sudan. Both also have financial and political leverage that could be used to help prevent Sudan’s transition from derailing.

About the Report

This report examines China’s evolving political and commercial relationship with Sudan in the aftermath of the April 2019 coup that ousted longtime ally President Omar al-Bashir. Based on interviews with policy officials, diplomats, industry and security experts, and others, it incorporates an extensive review of scholarly and news sources. The research was supported by the China Program at the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Author

Laura Barber is a political risk analyst based in London. She specializes in Chinese foreign policy toward Africa, focusing on China’s political and economic relations with Sudan and South Sudan. She has a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Related Publications

China: The International Community is Failing Xinjiang’s Uyghurs

China: The International Community is Failing Xinjiang’s Uyghurs

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

By: Lauren Baillie; Rachel Vandenbrink

Documented evidence of large-scale human rights abuses in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region has painted a clear picture that Beijing is perpetrating mass atrocities against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim ethnic groups. But even in the face of transparent evidence, the strategies the international community and the United States typically deploy to prevent atrocities have failed to stop the problem. The United States and like-minded countries have an obligation to act to end the ongoing atrocities and to protect the Uyghur people. While many important steps have been taken, none have had a noticeable impact on Beijing. It’s time for the international community to take stock of the atrocity prevention toolkit, to consider why it has failed the Uyghurs, and to discuss how these failures can inform updates or adaptations to respond to the Xinjiang crisis.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Human Rights; Global Policy

China’s Influence on Conflict Dynamics in South Asia

China’s Influence on Conflict Dynamics in South Asia

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

By: USIP China-South Asia Senior Study Group

China has embarked on a grand journey west. Officials in Beijing are driven by aspirations of leadership across their home continent of Asia, feelings of being hemmed in on their eastern flank by U.S. alliances, and their perception that opportunities await across Eurasia and the Indian Ocean. Along the way, their first stop is South Asia, which this report defines as comprising eight countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—along with the Indian Ocean (particularly the eastern portions but with implications for its entirety). China’s ties to the region are...

Type: Report

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Spurred by China Rivalry, U.S., India Deepen Strategic Ties

Spurred by China Rivalry, U.S., India Deepen Strategic Ties

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

By: Vikram J. Singh

The United States and India inked on October 27 a key agreement that will help New Delhi get real-time access to American geospatial intelligence. The agreement, known as the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), was a result of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue between U.S. and Indian defense and foreign affairs chiefs, following a trend in recent years of deepening military cooperation geared toward pushing back on China’s increasingly assertive policies in the region. This comes after a spate of skirmishes this year on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a Sino-Indian disputed border region. USIP’s Vikram Singh looks at India’s evolving defense posture, deepening U.S.-Indian ties, and how it relates to India’s rocky relationships with China and Pakistan.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications