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How China's support of Sudan shields a regime called 'genocidal'

Despite instability in the south and the crisis in Darfur, China continues to offer political and military backing.

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"We have an oil revenue calculation committee, and every month we look at the production and sales figures and work out the figures for who takes what," says Ms. Teny, a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a political party formed by rebels from the south. But the production and sales figures all go directly to the Ministry of Mining and Energy from the Chinese-run Greater Nile Production Company, without any way of checking whether the figures are accurate.

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In recent months, South Sudan's share in those oil revenues has dropped by half. Between January and March, it has gone from around $80 million to less than $40 million per month, says Teny. "This is when a lack of trust comes in," she stresses. "If we have figures yo-yo like this, with sharp drops, we ask questions. This can only be answered by having a proper monitoring system."

China both buys the vast majority of Sudan's oil and is the majority partner in the consortiums extracting the oil – but refuses to open up its records or get involved in any debate on whether their payments are reaching the rightful destinations.

More worrysome for many critics, however, is that China sells Khartoum weapons and military aircraft and backs Sudan in the UN Security Council when other nations seek to condemn it for its bad behavior toward its own citizens.

In recent years, most talk of the Khartoum government's mistreatment of citizens has focused not so much on the south but on the conflict in Darfur.

President Bush calls the killings in Darfur "genocide" and accuses Khartoum of serious human rights abuses.

He is far from alone. According to a report last year by Amnesty International, Sudan is carrying out "massive violations of international human rights ... in southern Sudan and Darfur" – all with the help of Chinese ammunition, tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft.

In 2005, the last year such figures were made available, Sudan bought $24 million worth of arms and ammunition, as well as $57 million worth of parts and aircraft equipment and $2 million worth of parts for helicopters and airplanes, according to a recent report by Amnesty International. China has also recently delivered six K-8 advanced trainer fighter jets, which can be used for air-to-ground attacks, according to the report. All this after a UN-approved embargo was imposed on Darfur.

"We are using helicopters in Darfur, yes," says Mohamed Yousif Abed Allah, the minister of culture. "It is necessary ... as you call it, a deterrence."

Sudan and China boosting military cooperation

In April, China's state-owned Xinhua news agency reported that China and Sudan had vowed, "to boost military exchanges and cooperation in various sectors," during a visit by Sudan's Joint Chief of Staff Haj Ahmed El Gaili to Beijing. "Military relations between China and Sudan have developed smoothly," Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan was quoted as saying. "China is willing to further develop cooperation between the two militaries in every sphere."

Meanwhile, in its role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has continuously blocked effective action against Sudan by arguing for the respect of Sudan's sovereignty. This is in line with China's overall policy to respect other nations' independence.

"China had suffered imperialist aggression and oppression for over 100 years before the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. Therefore, China regards the hard-earned right of independence as the basic principle of foreign policy," the foreign ministry states on its website.

China respects and defends Sudan's sovereignty

In light of this way of thinking, China has repeatedly used veto threats to block the deployment of a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, significantly weakening international pressure on Sudan's government to solve the crisis.

China does diplomacy in its own way, stress officials in Beijing. Unimpressed with what it – and others – see as the West's strong-arm tactics and father-knows-best conditionality for aid and trade, China aims for a subtler, more respectful approach.