The Chinese envoy, however, came here mainly to talk about oil.
The Chinese “are very worried,” said Stephen Dhieu Dau, South Sudan’s minister of petroleum and mining, who attended the lunch with Liu. “Their wish is to see the continuation of production and the flow of the crude. This is their concern.”
China, which gets nearly a third of its imported crude oil from Africa, has invested billions of dollars in the past 15 years to pump crude from this war-scarred land. But the division of what until five months ago was a united country has pushed Beijing into a political minefield in defense of its assets, straining China’s “just business” insistence that it doesn’t get involved in the internal affairs of foreign lands.
China’s involvement revolves largely around the interests of a single company, the China National Petroleum Corp., or CNPC, a state-owned giant that, in its quest to match the global reach of Western oil majors and to feed China’s appetite for fuel, has dragged usually risk-averse Chinese diplomats into one of Africa’s most poisonous feuds.
Across Africa, China is getting tugged into local affairs. In Zambia, China’s involvement in mining — and its close ties to the incumbent president — dominated a September presidential election. China’s man lost. A multibillion-dollar, energy-linked Chinese loan to Ghana caused political ructions there. Leaders in Chad, meanwhile, have been struggling in recent weeks to tamp down public anger over a sudden boost in the price of gasoline produced by a new CNPC refinery near the Chadian capital.
China’s entanglement in foreign nations’ quarrels, however, is perhaps deepest in the desert and bush that flank the Nile. Here, CNPC straddles both sides of a murderously volatile fault line: between Muslim Arabs in the north and black, often Christian Africans who inhabit the south.
Most of the oil lies in the landlocked south, but the only way to get it to market is through Chinese-built pipelines that pass through the north to a Chinese-built terminal on the Red Sea.
When CNPC first took a stake in oil fields here in 1996, China placed all its chips on a brutal regime in Khartoum, selling arms and providing diplomatic cover as President Omar Hassan al-Bashir battled to crush southern rebels. With these same rebels now running ministries in Juba, China is rushing to hedge its bets, offering Khartoum’s foes in the south a package of development aid and low-interest credit that hasn’t been announced but that officials here say could be worth as much as $10 billion.