On July 9th 2011, the Republic of South Sudan was founded after years of civil war, becoming the newest country in the world. Our NexGen Global Forum members were lucky enough to meet with representatives from South Sudan in a meeting organized by the international NGO Safer World. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate dialogue in order to understand the effects of China’s role in South Sudan and how this role can contribute more meaningfully towards peace.
China’s role in South Sudan, as well as the rest of Africa, has increased as its demand for commodities has grown to meet the needs of the explosive growth of the Chinese economy. As Chinese companies have been encouraged to ‘go abroad’, these companies have been met head on with the existing state policy of non-interference in domestic politics and conflict of other nations. In the case of South Sudan, Leben Moro, a professor of Peace and Development Studies at the University of Juba, concisely stated, “Oil is politics.” At the onset of the civil war between Sudan and South Sudan, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) arrived to continue the production of the oil fields that had been abandoned by the Chevron Corporation. Rebels would frequently try to stop the flow of oil, which funded the government’s arms purchases during the civil war. Operating in this context, Chinese companies inherently became a part of politics and conflict dynamics. In the opinion of Professor Moro, many leaders will often look to China because of the non-interference policy while these leaders actively try to eliminate their opposition.
Beyond the issues of peace brokerage and conflict negotiation, China should attempt to offer an exemplary example of sound business practices in the South Sudan and elsewhere. In the opinion of Bakhita Francis, a nun who works in grassroots NGOs, many times local communities receive the negative effects of the Chinese involvement without the benefits. Furthermore, she believes that many workers, primarily women, are completely left out of the job creation provided by these companies.
While China’s complex situation requires some change to the current stance of non-intervention, it is my opinion that an interventionist policy into the politics and conflicts of other nations because of Chinese SOE business interests will create an unsustainable precedent for future involvement abroad. As the scope of Chinese investment around the world has grown, so too has the influence of its state-owned enterprises (SOEs). However, a clearly stated policy of non-intervention allows the Chinese government greater flexibility if, and when, exceptions to this policy may exist in the future. The argument that China should, “…take on greater responsibility in the world,” has been made numerous time before. I would argue that Chinese SOEs have more to offer its partner nations, specifically in Africa, through the creation and implementation of programs and strategies that foster the development of business, education, and worker empowerment in these countries. China can, if it chooses, provide a different path than the one forged by many American and European companies during the 20th century.