Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir received a hero’s welcome in a carefully choreographed appearance in North Darfur yesterday. Bashir spoke in front of 10,000 people in El Fasher where he defied the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant. Bashir told his audience it was an attempt to foil his government's efforts to restore peace in the region and said Sudan would not be cowed by the threat of sanctions either. His feisty words come a week after the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, sought an arrest warrant against Bashir on charges including genocide and war crimes in Darfur.
Moreno-Ocampo presented his evidence in The Hague on 14 July after a three year investigation. In 2005 the UN referred the Darfur war crimes to the Prosecutor of the ICC. Moreno-Ocampo’s conclusion is that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that Bashir bears criminal responsibility in relation to 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Bashir failed to defeat the armed movements in Darfur, so he went after the people. “His motives were largely political. His alibi was a ‘counterinsurgency'.” However, he continued, “his intent was genocide.”
Not everyone in the international community accepts this intent. China warned last week it was “deeply concerned” and hoped “the situation in Darfur would not be complicated by any attempted prosecution of Sudanese President”. Chinese spokesman Liu Jianchao proceeded to snow the issue by saying the international community held different views on Sudan and China was ready “to continue an exchange of views” as long as they were “within a certain framework”. Liu said China was only interested in safeguarding the peace and stability of Sudan and the Darfur region. But his glib patter made no mention of China’s real interest: Sudanese oil.
China has incorporated a strategic element into its energy deals with developing countries. In order to gain access to markets such as Sudan they provide sweeteners such as millions in economic and military aid, access to China’s growing market, and diplomatic support at the UN where China can wield its veto power in the Security Council. China has provided both cash and political cover to the Bashir regime in direct violation of international sanctions.
The Clinton administration imposed sanctions on Sudan as a “sponsor of terror” in 1997 which effectively banned investment by the West. China stepped in to fill the void to enable Sudan circumvent the US-applied economic pressure. China now imports seven percent of all its oil from Sudan. It is Sudan’s second largest export partner (after Japan) and is the largest import partner by a considerable margin (ahead of Saudi Arabia). Chinese companies own substantial parts of the $2 billion Sudanese oil industry including the Khartoum Oil Refinery and half of the 1,600km pipeline to Port Sudan.
China stood up for Sudan when it got into international trouble over its genocidal policies in Darfur. When in 2004 the US brought a resolution to the Security Council demanding oil sanctions if the Sudanese failed to rein in the militias, China threatened to use its veto. As a result, the US baulked and the UN agreed on a watered-down resolution which merely “considered further actions”. China’s ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, claimed oil interests were not a factor and argued stronger resolutions would eliminate the Sudanese government’s incentive to co-operate.
This is clearly a specious argument. China has paid for some of Sudan’s oil in weaponry and over 4000 non-uniformed Chinese military forces are reported to provide physical protection for Beijing’s investments. Two weeks ago, BBC’s Panorama program reported that the Chinese government is providing training and equipments that are used by Bashir’s forces in Darfur in contravention of an arms embargo. Earlier this year China defended its policies claiming it accounted for just 8 percent of Sudan's total arms imports and blamed the US, Russia and UK as "the biggest arms exporters to developing countries including Sudan.
Whereever the weapons come from, there is little doubt Sudan is eager to have them. Omar al-Bashir’s regime is in many ways a typical example of a state-controlling regime in Sudanese history. Sudan has many communities and tribes characterised by hierarchical traditional cultures, some of which have state power. The state is therefore a competition between different Arab groups for power. The situation in Darfur is even more complex. Removing Bashir would not remove the authoritarianism that lies at the heart of Sudanese society. The Bashir regime has survived since 1989 by appealing to Islamism and by maintaining the support of the armed forces. For Sudan to succeed it needs to move on beyond its policies of nationalist and ethnic exclusiveness and compose a national identity that makes non Arabs and non Muslims feel welcome. Without that transformation, the future for Sudan is bleak, regardless of whether Bashir is indicted or not.