Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Twitter Video Camera Youtube
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and rebel commander Riek Machar attend the signing a ceasefire agreement during the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Summit in Addis Ababa, 1 February 2015. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
Report 243 / Africa

South Sudan: Rearranging the Chessboard

President Salva Kiir has played a weak hand well since his main rival was forced out of Juba in July. To avoid new flare-ups in South Sudan’s three-year-old civil war, Kiir and regional states should step up their work on a more inclusive transitional government and peace deals with local rebel groups.

Executive Summary

Fighting in Juba in July ended efforts that had brought President Salva Kiir and former First Vice President Riek Machar together in a transitional government. Since then, Kiir has played a weak hand well, reconfiguring domestic and regional politics in his favour. Machar’s exile makes the president more amenable to certain compromises. The result has been calm in the capital, while national peace remains distant with much of the country under fragile local truces or in conflict. The government’s ability to balance its military and diplomatic advantages with peacemaking will determine whether conflict diminishes. Regional consensus to support it and isolate armed opposition groups presents a brief window when a strengthened Juba’s political calculations favour ending conflicts. Regional and wider international powers should seize the opportunity to push strongly for inclusive national dialogue and negotiations with rebel groups focused on politics (eg, governance arrangements), local security dynamics, the economy and communal relations rather than military-based solutions.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, the regional body) peace process and the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) prevented South Sudan’s war from turning into a regional conflict. However, ARCSS has been less successful in creating an effective, inclusive Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU), despite the pragmatic international consensus behind Taban Deng Gai’s replacement of Machar as first vice president. Taban Deng faces an uphill struggle to gain wider domestic credibility and bring armed opposition groups into the TGoNU.

Most of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) rejected his elevation and vowed to fight on. Yet, without military resupply and an internationally recognised leader able to negotiate on its behalf, the Machar-led SPLM/A-IO’s future is uncertain, and it is struggling to restructure. There has been little fighting in its Greater Upper Nile heartland, partly because support it previously received from Sudan has dwindled, but there are likely to be clashes in areas of contention. Parts of the Equatoria region – around Yei, Lanya and Morobo, the former Western Bahr al Ghazal state – including Raja and Wau, and the former Unity state continue to experience complex local conflicts whose intensity varies and have included ethnically targeted violence. Most of these are driven by local political grievances and exacerbated by abusive security responses that consistently fail to protect local people and drive support to rebel groups.

On 14 December, Kiir announced national dialogue to complement ARCSS implementation and negotiations with armed groups. Since there have been few tangible steps toward a sustainable peace on the ground, and the prior approach ignored fundamental drivers of rebellion, these three interconnected processes are the only realistic means available to make the TGoNU more inclusive. Yet, if these processes lead to deals that create overt winners and losers, they will likely sow the seeds of new conflicts. Armed opposition groups and disaffected communities also have insufficient confidence in Juba’s ability and willingness to deal fairly with them. The TGoNU needs to take a balanced, politics-first approach to resolving the conflicts, and IGAD, with wider international support, should support and guarantee the process.

The major violence of the war that broke out in December 2013 triggered a convergence of IGAD member states’ interests in mitigating the risks of regional spill-over. For the past half year, South Sudan’s neighbours have placed a premium on regional stability and put aside aspirations that ARCSS would be a transformative agreement for the country. One result of the delicate diplomatic process is that relations between Khartoum, Juba and Kampala have improved. The most tangible sign is Sudan’s support for the TGoNU and rejection of Machar’s return to rebellion. Juba is now expected to reciprocate with concessions regarding its support for Sudanese armed groups. Full agreement and implementation would strengthen both countries, significantly altering the calculus for armed opposition groups in the region. International partners should encourage and support this.

Without an agreement on armed groups and oil revenue, bilateral relations will remain unstable and recent gains insecure.

South Sudan’s historically fraught relations with Khartoum mean there are powerful constituencies and emotive forces opposed to a new arrangement, despite its obvious benefits. Both Juba and Khartoum are facing severe economic challenges. Juba is in dire economic straits, and oil is central to bilateral relations. Talks to reform the provisional oil revenue-sharing regime, in force since 2012, are dependent on halting support to one another’s rebels. Without an agreement on armed groups and oil revenue, bilateral relations will remain unstable and recent gains insecure.

Following the July fighting in Juba, the UN Security Council approved an IGAD-proposed regional protection force (RPF) to focus on security there. Juba’s objections to aspects of the mandate caused the Council to threaten an arms embargo if it did not accept the force unconditionally. Following regional negotiations, Juba dropped its objections to the RPF and is seeking to use it to its advantage. The RPF is intended to improve security in Juba and to deter further conflict. There is some hope it could help create conditions for inclusivity, such as an environment for national dialogue. Over the longer term, however, tensions among regional powers involved in the force – whose relations are dynamic – could be a challenge. With IGAD’s political lead and the force’s role in supporting its political objectives, the potential for differences between the UN and region requires careful management by the UN Secretary-General.

Today’s regional relative stability may be short lived, and international partners should take advantage of it to support national dialogue and negotiations between the TGoNU, armed opposition and disaffected communities. The TGoNU’s ability to reduce conflicts is its only buffer against growing economic distress and the risk of a shift in regional dynamics favourable to its armed opponents. If it does not seize this opportunity, any progress toward peace may be reversed.


To bring and sustain peace in South Sudan

To South Sudan’s Transitional Government of National Unity:

  1. Emphasise the following four key areas in ARCSS implementation, national dialogue and negotiations with armed groups to increase inclusivity in the TGoNU: politics (eg, governance arrangements); local security dynamics; the economy; and communal relations.
  2. Seek external support and capacity building from IGAD and other trusted actors for national dialogue and negotiations with armed groups and their communities to increase the inclusivity of the TGoNU and other ARCSS institutions.

To the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission:

  1. Continue efforts to increase inclusivity in ARCSS, including of non-signatories.

To encourage greater inclusivity in the TGoNU


  1. Support the TGoNU in the facilitation of national dialogue and negotiations with armed groups that emphasise politics (eg, governance arrangements); local security dynamics; the economy; and communal relations.


  1. Provide financial and political support to the TGoNU for ARCSS implementation and national dialogue, conditioned on the TGoNU’s genuine efforts toward inclusivity.

To the African Union:

  1. Provide support to national dialogue participants within the parameters of ARCSS provisions on transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing.

To further the shift from regional instability to regional peace

To the governments of Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda:

  1. Continue efforts to find lasting solutions to conflicts in Darfur, the Two Areas and South Sudan.

To the governments of Sudan and South Sudan:

  1. Continue discussions over unresolved bilateral issues from the 2012 Cooperation Agreements, including financial arrangements, support for armed groups and border delineation; and put into practice commitments to reduce cross-border armed group activity.

To the governments of Sudan and Uganda:

  1. Continue to work together in support of peace efforts in South Sudan and Sudan; and institutionalise relations by reactivating the Joint Permanent Commission.

To the government of Uganda:

  1. Continue to support peace processes in Sudan, using its good offices and influence with armed groups.

To South Sudan’s Transitional Government of National Unity:

  1. Emphasise stability along the Ethiopian and Ugandan borders, including working collaboratively to prevent cross-border raiding and reducing armed group activity.
  2. Ensure full support for humanitarian service delivery to reduce destabilising refugee inflows into neighbouring countries.

To help prevent abuses and reduce that driver of rebellion in South Sudan


  1. Consider supporting training of security forces, but strictly limited to adherence to international humanitarian law during counter-insurgency operations.

To reduce a source of tensions between South Sudan and its neighbours and between the UN and the TGoNU

To the UN Secretary-General:

  1. Ensure the Secretariat maintains careful oversight of the regional force’s actions and regional relations.

Juba/Nairobi/Brussels, 20 December 2016

I. Introduction

The August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) sought to end the civil war that broke out in December 2013. It also aimed to improve governance and begin to address longstanding sources of tension between Juba, Kampala and Khartoum that have driven proxy conflict and undermined peacemaking. The government signed ARCSS under extreme pressure, and both it and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) subsequently undermined the agreement. With members of the regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), unwilling to force implementation, ARCSS in effect collapsed amid fighting in Juba in July 2016, and former First Vice President Riek Machar later fled the country.

The new iteration of the agreement currently taking shape with a significantly curtailed reform agenda is far more favourable to the wartime government. South Sudan’s neighbours are now more interested in ARCSS’s regional stability agenda, which not only survived July’s fighting but has been strengthened. At present, most armed groups in both Sudan and South Sudan are relatively isolated, with no reliable source of resupply.

This report analyses the regional and domestic political drivers of South Sudan’s crisis, focusing on the post-July period and offers suggestions for pursuit of solutions. It is based on research in South Sudan, Addis Ababa, Brussels, Kampala, other Horn of Africa locations, London, Paris, Nairobi and New York.

II. Khartoum and Juba: A Difficult Divorce

Southern Sudan, now independent South Sudan, has been at the centre of a conflicted region for more than half a century. For decades, its wars have drawn neighbouring countries into protracted conflicts that often spilled into their own territories.[fn]Crisis Group has worked on issues of conflict within South Sudan and Sudan, Khartoum-Juba relations and the regional dynamics of these conflicts, for many years. Major reports include: Crisis Group Africa Reports N°s 228, South Sudan: Keeping Faith with the IGAD Peace Process, 27 July 2015; 223, Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts, 29 January 2015; 217, South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name, 10 April 2014; 204, Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (II): War in Blue Nile, 18 June 2013; N°198, Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I): War in South Kordofan, 14 February 2013; 172, Politics and Transition in the New South Sudan, 4 April 2011; 159, Sudan: Regional Perspectives on the Prospects of Southern Independence, 6 May 2010; and Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°76, Negotiating Sudan’s North-South Future, 23 November 2010.Hide Footnote The war that broke out in December 2013 risked destroying delicately balanced regional relations that had developed, with several setbacks, since the IGAD-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended Sudan’s second civil war (1983-2005). South Sudan’s civil war, which began as a domestic political crisis, threatened to precipitate a regional proxy conflict. This led IGAD to launch mediation efforts that sought to reduce tensions while pushing for a domestic solution.[fn]Crisis Group Reports, South Sudan: A Civil War, pp. 3-7; South Sudan: Keeping Faith, both op. cit.Hide Footnote

A. Khartoum and Juba Reshape Relations after 2011

Between secession in July 2011 and the civil war’s start in December 2013, South Sudan’s relationship with Sudan was its most significant and difficult to manage. The biggest challenges were associated with armed groups, oil and the border. These unresolved issues led to an oil production shutdown and brief border conflict in 2012, but the two countries pulled back from the brink and, despite the start of South Sudan’s civil war, relations slowly improved. Nevertheless, the same factors continue to influence relations and how both manage their internal conflicts.

1. Armed groups

Not everyone was pleased by the CPA and southern secession. While some groups reconciled with their own government, others, leveraging historical relationships with Juba or Khartoum, continued armed insurgencies to challenge their government. Khartoum and Juba have used, and continue to use, these groups in pursuit of strategic advantages over their neighbour. Yet, the groups have their own agendas and motivations which, at times, diverge from those of their patrons.

In Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states (the Two Areas), which border South Sudan, the CPA left many who had joined the insurgent Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) territorially isolated in an unreformed Sudan.[fn]The CPA allowed the Two Areas only a vaguely defined “Popular Consultation” on their future status. Crisis Group Report, Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I), op. cit., p. 15. After secession, SPLA forces from the Two Areas became the SPLA-North. The SPLM/A became the dominant political and military force in South Sudan.Hide Footnote When the now Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N) went back to war with Khartoum in 2011, its ties to Juba became a significant issue in North-South relations.[fn]The war began after the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) claimed victory over the SPLM/A-N candidate in disputed South Kordofan gubernatorial elections. Attempts to disarm SPLA-N troops failed in May 2011, and fighting broke out in both states in June. Crisis Group Report, Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I), op. cit., pp. 15-17.Hide Footnote Khartoum accused Juba of continuing to support the group and allowing it to operate in South Sudan.[fn]Juba paid the salaries of ex-SPLA soldiers operating as SPLA-N until at least the end of 2011 and gave some logistical aid. Crisis Group interview, Sudanese journalist with SPLM-N contacts, 11 March 2016; Crisis Group Report, Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I), op. cit., p. 20.Hide Footnote Tensions increased when the SPLM/A-N and Darfur rebels formed the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) in November 2011 to fight Khartoum jointly.[fn]The Darfur rebel groups were the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi (SLA-MM) and Sudan Liberation Army-Abdel Wahid (SLA-AW). In July 2013 the SRF raided into North Kordofan state, briefly capturing the town of Abu Kershola. Crisis Group Report, Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I)op. cit.; Andrew McCutchen, “The Sudan Revolutionary Front: Its Formation and Development”, HSBA Working Paper, no. 33 (2014). The SRF promotes a “New Sudan” vision, aiming to replace the NCP regime with an administration of the progressive political opposition and armed groups. Crisis Group interview, SPLM-N Secretary General Yasir Arman, Paris, 28 April 2016.Hide Footnote This gained the Darfuris some support from Juba.[fn]Juba also saw an alliance with Darfuri rebel groups as potentially useful in countering expected northern aggression over the shared border. Crisis Group Africa Report N°211, Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (III): The Limits of Darfur’s Peace Process, 27 January 2014, pp. 19-21.Hide Footnote After civil war broke out in South Sudan, the Darfur rebels allied with Juba and fought alongside the SPLA in some operations.[fn]Darfur rebels’ strength and territorial control have diminished due to government counter-insurgency, a 2010 Chad-Sudan agreement to restrict rebel movements and resupply and the splintering of the groups. Victor Tanner and Jérôme Tubiana, “Divided They Fall: The Fragmentation of Darfur’s Rebel Groups”, HSBA Working Paper, no. 6 (2007); Crisis Group Africa Report N°144, Chad: A New Conflict Resolution Framework, 24 September 2008, pp. 27-28; “Khartoum to lead joint Sudan-Chad border force”, Agence France-Presse, 5 February 2010; Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°110, The Chaos in Darfur, 22 April 2015.Hide Footnote

Sudan has long supported anti-SPLA armed groups, notably the SPLM/A-Nasir faction, which split from the SPLM/A in 1991, led by Machar and the Shilluk political leader, Dr Lam Akol.[fn]For more, see Douglas H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars (Oxford, 2003); John Young, The Fate of Sudan (London, 2012).Hide Footnote After the 2005 CPA and following contested elections in South Sudan in 2010, new rebels, including Johnson Olony’s Shilluk forces, organised under the banner of the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A).[fn]Crisis Group Africa Report N°221, South Sudan: Jonglei – “We Have Always Been at War”, 22 December 2014, p. 3; “Pendulum Swings. The Rise and Fall of Insurgent Militias in South Sudan”, Small Arms Survey, November 2013.Hide Footnote In 2011, with Khartoum’s support, Bul Nuer and other Nuer groups formed the South Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SSLM/A).[fn]The SSLM/A included commanders such as Gatluak Gai, James Gai Yoach and Carlo Kuol. In April 2011, SPLA General Peter Gatdet defected and became the SSLM/A leader. In majority Nuer Unity state, the population has frequently fought the SPLM/A, often with Khartoum’s support. After the 2001-2002 “Nuer civil wars”, many Bul Nuer remained allied to Khartoum. Crisis Group Report, Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts, op. cit., p. 7.Hide Footnote In 2012, some members fought alongside the Sudanese army when the SPLA and SRF briefly seized the disputed Hejlij border region. In late 2013, under a deal to improve Sudan-South Sudan relations, Bul Nuer SSLM/A leaders and Olony accepted an amnesty and fought with Juba when civil war broke out in December 2013.[fn]Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: A Civil War, op. cit. p. 27.Hide Footnote

2. Oil, financial arrangements and border conflict

Sudan lost three-quarters of its oil production capacity and half its fiscal revenues at secession. With international help, it negotiated financial measures to soften the blow.[fn]Sudan lost an estimated $6 billion per year due to reduced oil exports. “Sudan 2012 Article 12 consultation”, IMF, November 2012.Hide Footnote At independence Juba informally agreed to pay transit fees to use Sudan’s pipeline.[fn]The informal settlement enabled production to continue, with South Sudan to make back-payments once a formal agreement was concluded. Laura M. James, “Fields of Control: Oil and (In)security in Sudan and South Sudan, HSBA Working Paper, no. 40 (2015), p. 43.Hide Footnote In January 2012, with a final deal not agreed, Khartoum began appropriating “payment in kind”, loading oil into its own tankers at Port Sudan. Furious, Juba shut down production, and tensions led to clashes centred on oil facilities and the bombing of installations near Bentiu.[fn]Ibid, pp. 43-45.Hide Footnote In April 2012, the SPLA occupied the Hejlij oil-producing region, but withdrew under foreign pressure.[fn]Luke Patey, The New Kings of Crude: China and India’s Global Struggle for Oil in South Sudan (London, 2014), pp. 235-236; Hannah McNeish, “S. Sudan completes withdrawal from flashpoint oil field”, Agence France-Presse, 22 April 2012.Hide Footnote

The oil shutdown was popular in the South but damaged both economies.[fn]The revenue loss forced Juba to cut public spending, use $2 billion in reserves and borrow an estimated $4.5 billion. Alex de Waal, “Brute Causes of the Civil War in South Sudan”, African Affairs, vol. 113, no. 452 (2014), p. 364; “Sudan Economic Brief: Recent Economic Developments 2nd Semester 2012”, The World Bank, December 2012.Hide Footnote This motivated the September 2012 Cooperation Agreements, which included a restructuring of transit fees in favour of a Transitional Financial Arrangement (TFA).[fn]Processing and transport fees remained, but Khartoum focused on the TFA, revised to $3.028 billion. This would be repaid via a $15 per barrel fee and a package of other charges over a three- and-a-half-year period. “Sudanese official explains how they calculated oil transportation fees”, Sudan Tribune, 11 August 2012.Hide Footnote Both countries also said they would stop harbouring or supporting the other’s rebels and withdraw their armed forces to a fourteen-mile Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ), monitored by the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission (JBVMM).[fn]“The Cooperation Agreement between The Republic of the Sudan and The Republic of South Sudan”, 27 September 2012. The SDBZ was to prevent either side controlling border infrastructure, such as bridges, for military purposes. Joshua Craze, “Contested Borders: Continuing Tensions over the Sudan–South Sudan Border”, HSBA Working Paper, no. 34 (2014), p. 21.Hide Footnote The agreements created principles on which Khartoum and Juba could pin relations, but they are only partially implemented.

B. Kampala and Khartoum Intervene in the Civil War

The civil war’s most significant external interventions came from Uganda and, to a lesser extent, Sudan. Fearing that Juba would be captured by a Machar-led opposition that could serve as a proxy for Sudan (historically a Ugandan adversary), in December 2013 Ugandan forces intervened to defend the capital, preventing a second massacre in Juba, and then, with the SPLA, pushed the rebels from the city of Bor to the north.[fn]During the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), Uganda supported the SPLA as a buffer between it and newly Islamist Khartoum’s military expansionism. Khartoum channeled support to the Ugandan rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA.) The Khartoum-Kampala proxy conflict was mainly fought in South Sudan. Relations began to improve due to the signing of the CPA in 2005. Gerard Prunier, “Rebel Movements and Proxy Warfare: Uganda, Sudan and the Congo (1986–99)”, African Affairs, vol. 103, no. 412 (2004), pp. 359-383; Mareike Schomerus, “The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan: A History and Overview”, Small Arms Survey, September 2007.Hide Footnote

Prompted by the Juba massacre in December 2013, Nuer communities and military leaders launched their rebellion with little immediate support from Sudan. Khartoum considered the war a challenge – particularly after fighting destroyed some oil infrastructure – but also an opportunity to assert its agenda over a weakened neighbour.[fn]“A South Sudan that is busy with itself is better than a complete collapse”. Crisis Group interview, senior Sudanese diplomat, Brussels, 10 May 2015.Hide Footnote President Omar al-Bashir continued to positively engage with Salva Kiir, while maintaining leverage through limited support to the SPLM/A-IO (though not enough to win the war).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLM/A-IO military leadership, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, 2014-2016. Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Keeping Faith, op. cit., p. 10.Hide Footnote Khartoum also strengthened its hand by serving as one of the three IGAD mediators (alongside Ethiopia and Kenya).

C. A Regional Peace Deal

ARCSS was signed in August 2015 after eighteen months of negotiations.[fn]An IGAD mediation team led negotiations. It excluded Uganda due to its military deployment (it was included at head-of-state level). After March 2015, under IGAD-PLUS, it included the African Union (AU), UN, European Union (EU), the Troika (U.S., UK, Norway), China and the IGAD Partners Forum. Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Keeping Faith, op. cit., p. 10.Hide Footnote It was an attempt to end a conflict fought entirely in South Sudan but in which regional powers were extensively involved and considered their own interests and regional stability threatened.[fn]Hundreds of thousands were internally displaced. Between 15 December 2013 and the end of August 2015, 622,220 fled abroad (223,071 to Ethiopia, 189,809 to Sudan, 162,845 to Uganda and 46,495 to Kenya). “South Sudan Situation UNHCR Regional Update 74”, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), September 2015.Hide Footnote The talks were lengthy – most of the time neither side favoured a peace agreement – but successful in moderating IGAD members’ most bellicose tendencies. The agreement called for withdrawal of Ugandan troops (completed in October 2015) and expulsion of “non-state security actors” – specifically the SRF – which has not occurred.[fn]The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) was allowed to keep forces associated with an AU counter-LRA force in South Sudan. “Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan”, IGAD, 17 August 2015, p. 20.Hide Footnote ARCSS was a basis for a solution to conflict in South Sudan, but in its first iteration it proved more effective at neutralising regional tensions than ending internal conflict. South Sudanese warring parties variously complied with, prevaricated over or completely undermined the provisions that applied to them.

III. Beyond ARCSS: Deal-Making for National Interest

ARCSS required concerted effort from IGAD to implement, but in the months following signing, the organisation lost focus and, by default, the U.S. took the implementation lead. This, in conjunction with oversight by the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), was not enough to prevent steady deterioration in relations between Kiir and Machar.[fn]Crisis Group Statement, “Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan”, 1 July 2016. The ARCSS created JMEC, which is “responsible for monitoring and overseeing the implementation of the Agreement and the mandate and tasks of the TGoNU”. It reports to the IGAD heads of state. “Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan”, Chapter VII, 17 August 2015.Hide Footnote The deployment of hundreds of SPLA-IO troops to Juba as part of ARCSS created a tense and fragile security situation; intense fighting in early July forced Machar and his forces to flee.[fn]See Crisis Group Commentary, “De-escalating South Sudan’s New Flare-up”, 10 July 2016.Hide Footnote Soon after, Machar’s former chief negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, was sworn in to replace him as first vice president, splitting the SPLM/A-IO. He has since been accepted by IGAD. This has given Kiir and his government the opportunity to reshape ARCSS. In the absence of an IGAD institutional approach, a series of bilateral relationships now influence the country’s immediate future – more so than multilateral or international interventions.

A. Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda

1. Khartoum-Juba: armed groups and oil

The Khartoum-Juba relationship is the most important variable affecting the scale, scope and intensity of conflict in South Sudan. Cross-border support to rebels is linked to disputes over armed groups, oil, the border, debt and other post-secession issues (often treated as a “package”).[fn]The 2012 Cooperation Agreements were such a package.Hide Footnote Khartoum and Juba have focused more than a year of discussions on the specifics of a deal over armed groups and oil.[fn]In the first half of 2016, negotiations were a priority. This led to several announcements. Sudan said in January it would reopen the border (closed since South Sudan’s secession) and in June that the SDBZ would be activated and completed within the month. “Sudan opens border with South Sudan for first time since 2011 secession”, Reuters, 28 January 2016; “Sudan closes its common border with South Sudan”, Sudan Tribune, 30 March 2016; “Sudan and S. Sudan agree to activate the buffer zone”, Sudan Tribune, 6 June 2016; “Sudan completes troop pull out from buffer zone with South Sudan”, Sudan Tribune, 26 June 2016. While the border never fully opened, and new arrangements are a work in progress, this period was the most sustained era of positive relations since South Sudan’s 2011 independence. See also Crisis Group Commentary, “From Conflict to Cooperation? Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda”, 20 June 2016.Hide Footnote

Machar’s replacement by Taban Deng advanced talks further. Following an August 2016 visit, Khartoum announced that the new first vice president promised to expel the SPLA/M-N from South Sudan; he said he hoped Sudan “wouldn’t serve as a launching pad for Machar”.[fn]Crisis Group Commentary, “South Sudan’s Risky Political Impasse”, 17 August 2016; “Khartoum says Juba vowed to drive out Sudanese rebels within three weeks”, Sudan Tribune, 30 August 2016.Hide Footnote Since then, Khartoum has denied Machar entry, as well as political and military support.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Riek Machar, September 2016. Machar has been in exile in South Africa since October; Sudan and Ethiopia turned him away in November, when he attempted to return to the region. Crisis Group interviews, SPLM-IO members, Nairobi, October 2016, by telephone, November 2016.Hide Footnote

Khartoum wants diplomatic and security benefits from the deal. Its international reputation improved with its relative restraint in South Sudan since December 2013.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, Western diplomat with focus on Sudan, 19 July 2016; interviews, Sudanese official, August 2015; senior UN official, Nairobi, 3 November 2016.Hide Footnote However, the conflicts in Darfur and the Two Areas are financially and politically costly, and ending the rebellions could ease a host of pressures and better its relations with Western powers.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Sudanese official, 2015.Hide Footnote Khartoum wants Juba to expel or limit the operations of the SPLM-N and Darfuri armed groups in its territory.[fn]SPLM-N representatives seek to distance themselves from Juba to retain legitimacy as a Sudanese movement rather than South Sudanese proxies. Secretary General Yasir Arman said the leadership decided not to participate significantly in the South Sudan war because it was “a power struggle [within the SPLA], not a war of liberation”. Crisis Group interview, Paris, 28 April 2016. Representatives admitted the SLM/A-MM’s presence in South Sudan but denied formal contact with the SPLA. Crisis Group interviews, senior SLM/A-MM members, Kampala, 17 June 2016.Hide Footnote In return it would deny the SPLM/A-IO support and compromise on oil-related payments.[fn]Juba denies these groups operate in South Sudan. Crisis Group interviews, South Sudanese officials, Juba, February, May 2016.Hide Footnote

If implemented, this would significantly alter the military context and potentially force rebel groups to negotiate over their future political and military status. The recent involvement of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Chadian President Idriss Déby in facilitation has put additional pressure on rebel groups to increase engagement with Khartoum.[fn]In October 2016 President Museveni brokered talks between the Sudan and the SPLM-N in Addis Ababa, and Déby met with the Darfuri JEM and SLA-AW in Berlin to discuss their joining the National Dialogue. Crisis Group Skype interview, Gibril Ibrahim, JEM chairman, 31 October 2016; interviews, Sudanese political opposition, rebel group representatives and civil society, London, Kampala, Nairobi, April-September 2016.Hide Footnote Sudanese rebel leaders understand this dynamic but are unwilling to abandon the AU mediation process, despite major reservations, given its international support and their weak military position.[fn]Sudanese opposition groups often see the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) process as a Khartoum attempt, in concert with international actors, to push them toward an unfavourable peace agreement. The Darfur armed groups control virtually no territory and largely operate outside their home areas. The SPLM-N is confined to strongholds in the Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan state) and small areas in Blue Nile state. It was weakened by the South Sudan civil war, which reduced Juba’s ability to give support. Crisis Group interview, Gibril Ibrahim, JEM chairman, Addis Ababa, 10 August 2016; senior members, SLM/A-MM, Kampala, 17 June 2016; Senior SPLM-N official, Kampala, 7 April 2016; email exchange, international expert on the Two Areas conflict, 29 April 2016. An SRF leadership struggle in 2016 led to a formal split between the SPLM-N and Darfur armed groups. Magdi el-Gizouli, “The Sudanese Revolutionary Front: Comrades in a Squabble”, African Arguments, 9 November 2015.Hide Footnote They generally doubt Juba has the capacity or inclination to expel them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Sudanese opposition activists engaged in the process, Kampala, September 2016; Nairobi, September 2016; Gibril Ibrahim, JEM chairman, 31 October 2016.Hide Footnote Khartoum, holding the current military advantage in Darfur and the Two Areas, appears prepared to be patient but firm, offering few compromises during AU negotiations.[fn]One solution would bring rebel groups from both sides of the border into a security arrangement that could provide a degree of local autonomy (such as the SSLA currently enjoys in South Sudan). Crisis Group interview, South Sudanese involved in the negotiations, Juba, March 2016.Hide Footnote

A deal offers Juba the prospect of avoiding further Khartoum-supported destabilisation and some assistance in shoring up its ailing economy. Sudan sees Machar and the SPLM/A-IO as a bargaining tool because support could easily be re-activated.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, South Sudanese officials, Juba, October 2016; Sudanese officials, September 2016.Hide Footnote On 21 October, following a U.S. call on Juba to “comply with its commitments to cease harbouring or providing support for Sudanese armed opposition groups”, Bashir gave South Sudan two months to honour those commitments.[fn]The U.S. statement referred to “credible reports [that] continue to indicate the GoRSS [Government of the Republic of South Sudan] is harboring and providing assistance to armed Sudanese opposition groups”. “South Sudan’s support of armed Sudanese opposition groups”, press release, U.S. State Department, 20 October 2016; “Sudan’s Bashir gives Juba two months to expel armed groups”, Sudan Tribune, 21 October 2016; “Sudanese rebels given ultimatum to leave South Sudan”, Sudan Tribune, 24 October 2016.Hide Footnote

Juba is seeking to lower its oil-transit payments to Sudan.[fn]The original transit fee was calculated when oil prices were much higher. When it dropped to a low of $28 per barrel in January 2016, South Sudan’s oil industry became unprofitable. This happened when Juba needed dollars to finance a budget stretched by war and economic disruption. Sudan can appropriate delayed payments “in kind” from oil exported through Port Sudan. “South Sudan Economic Overview”, World Bank, April 2016.Hide Footnote Khartoum is asking for political concessions in return.[fn]“The TFA is untouchable …, but extension of the payment period would be permitted”. Crisis Group interview, senior Sudanese diplomat, Brussels, 10 May 2016. Provisions for an oil deal have been agreed, but are dependent on progress to reduce support to armed groups.Hide Footnote With its lines of credit from most other sources overextended, South Sudan has few options. An International Monetary Fund (IMF)- sponsored bailout would come with stringent conditions, including significant oversight of government finances.[fn]“Strong policy efforts by the government could lay the basis for donors to play a role in providing support to close the fiscal gap”. “IMF staff completes 2016 Article IV mission to South Sudan”, press release, IMF, 1 June 2016.Hide Footnote Many in Juba see a deal with Sudan as the least bad option.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, South Sudanese officials, Juba, February, May 2016.Hide Footnote Despite the likely advantages, however, the two remain distrustful and wary of giving up strategic assets. There are also constituencies both in Juba and Khartoum and further afield that seek to undermine a deal.

2. The Kampala-Khartoum rapprochement

At South Sudan’s independence, Kampala was a staunch supporter and distrustful of Khartoum’s motives.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan academic and political analyst, Kampala, 4 April 2016.Hide Footnote When the war in Sudan’s Two Areas resumed in 2011, it saw an opportunity and allowed the SRF leadership to base itself there.[fn]This climaxed with the signing of the New Dawn Charter by Sudanese armed and political opposition in Kampala in January 2013. Kampala is also alleged to have given rebels militarily supplies in conjunction with Juba. Crisis Group Report, Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts, op. cit., p. 15. Uganda’s support for Sudanese rebels remained low, compared with its backing for the SPLA in the 1990s. Crisis Group Skype interview, Sudanese political analyst, May 2016. In May 2014, Khartoum sought intervention of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), to pressure Kampala over its SRF support. “Sudan Accuses Uganda of Backing Rebel Groups”, Daily Monitor, 7 May 2014.Hide Footnote Uganda’s military intervention in South Sudan and Sudanese support to South Sudanese rebels Juba was fighting after December 2013 further strained relations.

Seeking to improve ties, Kampala and Khartoum have organised senior-level meetings since mid-2014, in addition to regular Bashir-Museveni engagement as part of the South Sudan peace process. Their détente deepened as they developed arrangements to protect shared interests, including South Sudan’s relative stability under Kiir.[fn]“When the SPLA game turned ugly, both Kampala and Khartoum saw the dangers of disintegration”. Crisis Group interview, Ugandan government analyst, 4 April 2016. Also, Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan diplomat; National Resistance Movement (NRM) intellectual, 4 April 2016.Hide Footnote In February 2015, Sudanese Vice President Hasabo Abdel Rahman visited Kampala and announced formation of a Joint Security Committee.[fn]The committee’s mandate would include security sector cooperation and intelligence sharing. Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan diplomat; intelligence officials, April 2016.Hide Footnote Thereafter, Uganda told the SRF leadership it could no longer operate from Kampala.[fn]“Uganda created a good environment for [the SRF] to operate …, but Museveni had his own problems”. Crisis Group interview, senior former Darfur rebel leader, Kampala, 14 June 2016. The SRF leadership can still access Uganda; its families, supporters and associated civil society groups remain in Kampala. Crisis Group interviews, SRF leadership; Sudanese civil society, Kampala, London, Paris, February-June 2016.Hide Footnote In September 2015, President Museveni visited Khartoum, and in October Ugandan forces withdrew from South Sudan.[fn]Units deployed prior to the civil war as part of the Lord’s Resistance Army-Regional Task Force (LRA-RTF) remain. The LRA-RTF is the military component of the Regional Cooperation Initiative-Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA), launched to combat the group in Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central Africa Republic (CAR). It is headquartered in Yambio, South Sudan.Hide Footnote In May 2016, President Bashir attended Museveni’s fifth-term inauguration.[fn]In his inauguration speech, Museveni called the International Criminal Court (ICC), which indicted Bashir for war crimes in 2008, “a bunch of useless people” and said he no longer supported its agenda. “Western envoys in Uganda walk out of Museveni swearing-in”, BBC, 12 May 2016.Hide Footnote The two also are reactivating a Joint Permanent Commission (JPC) on a broad range of technical and business issues.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ugandan foreign policy official, 5 April 2016.Hide Footnote

Kampala and Khartoum are using their influence to secure arrangements in both Sudan and South Sudan between rebel groups and their respective central governments that meet core national interests and stabilise the region.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan and Sudanese diplomats, Brussels; Kampala, April; June 2016; Ugandan diplomats and intelligence officials, September 2016. In August, Uganda hosted Khartoum’s lead on the Darfur file, Amin Hassan Omar, to a meeting with armed group leadership in Kampala, following the collapse of AU talks that month. Crisis Group telephone interview, Darfur rebel group member, Kampala, 10 September 2016; interview, Sudanese opposition political analyst, Kampala, 9 September 2016. Museveni attended the closing session of Sudan’s National Dialogue conference in Khartoum. “President Museveni hails Sudan on historic dialogue”, New Vision, 10 October 2016. The national dialogue process has been criticised for lacking major armed and opposition groups. Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°108, Sudan: The Prospects for “National Dialogue, 11 March 2015. During his speech at the closing session, Museveni stated: “Uganda will do everything possible to support Sudan in peace-making”. “President Museveni hails Sudan on historic dialogue”, New Vision, 10 October 2016.Hide Footnote They draw for this on ARCSS, the Cooperation Agreements and the AU mediation process, but primarily negotiate directly rather than through the mechanisms created by those agreements and processes.

3. Kampala-Juba: a diplomatic approach

Kampala’s military support to President Kiir was criticised by some IGAD members and other international actors (including some Western governments whose diplomats in Juba had initially welcomed the deployment), which has made it more cautious. Uganda also felt unjustly excluded from the IGAD peace negotiations (except at head-of-state level).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan diplomats, security and intelligence personnel, Kampala, April-September 2016; presidential adviser, Kampala, 7 September 2016.Hide Footnote When the July 2016 fighting broke out, it did not intervene and sent only an army (Uganda People’s Defence Force, UPDF) convoy to rescue its citizens.[fn]UPDF spokesperson Paddy Ankunda stated on Twitter that Uganda evacuated 38,000 citizens from South Sudan by 20 July 2016. Tweet by Paddy Ankunda, @defenceuganda, 2:50 am, 20 July 2016. Juba did not request its assistance, and Kampala calculated that, given the relatively small number of SPLA-IO troops in the capital, its allies did not need military help. Crisis Group interview, Ugandan intelligence official, Kampala, 6 September 2016.Hide Footnote

Fighting in the Equatoria region along its border most concerns Uganda. More than 331,883 South Sudanese have crossed into Uganda since July. Officials worry that the insurgency, whose members come from communities straddling the frontier, such as the Kakwa, Kuku, Acholi and Madi, could cause instability. Insecurity in the Equatorias, particularly along major roads, and hard currency shortages in Juba have cut trade and hurt Uganda’s economy.[fn]“Uganda: South Sudan Refugee Situation (Info-Graphic)”, UNHCR, 28 November 2016. The SPLM/A-IO earlier sought, with little impact, to link with Ugandan opposition groups and communities perceived as disaffected from Museveni’s government. Crisis Group interviews, SPLM/A-IO officials, Addis Ababa, January 2014, June 2015; Ugandan diplomats and intelligence officials, Kampala, September 2016. “Kenya, Uganda lose $12m as S. Sudan inflation hits 600pc”, The East African, 13 August 2016.Hide Footnote In October, due to deteriorating security in border areas and provocations against Ugandan civilians, Uganda and South Sudan began joint police patrolling of the Juba-Nimule road.[fn]In 2007, during insecurity in the same area, the UPDF and SPLA deployed to secure the road. Sending police, rather than troops, this time acknowledged Uganda’s ARCSS commitments and the desire that its efforts not precipitate regional tensions. Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan officials, Juba, June, October 2016. “Joint Communique Between Uganda Police and S. Sudan Police”, Uganda Police, 22 October 2016.Hide Footnote

Museveni is the leader with most influence over Kiir, and economic, historical, political and ideological ties between the countries are strong. Soon after the July violence Museveni counselled Juba to allow deployment of the Regional Protection Force (RPF) but negotiate on its composition, which Juba accepted (see below).[fn]The SPLM/A-IO have also sought to influence Museveni. Machar met him in Uganda in January and Khartoum in October. Crisis Group interviews, SPLM/A-IO officials, Nairobi, January, October 2016. “Ugandan president advises S. Sudan to accept deployment of regional forces”, Sudan Tribune, 24 July 2016. Ugandan officials doubt the RPF can improve the security situation. Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan diplomats and security official, Kampala, April 2016.Hide Footnote Ugandan officials believe Juba could do much more to reduce internal conflicts, but Kampala’s focus on strategic security and economic partnership leaves it disinclined to try to micromanage what it sees as South Sudanese internal affairs.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Ugandan officials, Kampala and Juba, 2014-2016; Ugandan officials and analysts, Kampala, February, April 2016.Hide Footnote

B. Wider Regional Involvement

1. Ethiopia

When the civil war started, Ethiopia sought to be a neutral broker, while protecting its economic interests and border security.[fn]Ethiopia also saw itself as mediating between the wartime government and SPLM/A-IO’s regional backers (Kampala and Khartoum). Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Keeping Faith op. cit., p. 8.Hide Footnote It hosted and led the IGAD peace talks in Addis Ababa and permitted SPLM/A-IO members to stay there during them. Juba increasingly perceived Ethiopia as favouring the rebels and seeking to influence its internal affairs. Relations reached a nadir after July 2016, as Addis supported the RPF, which many of its supporters proposed Ethiopia lead. Juba viewed this as tantamount to an invasion.[fn]Crisis Group Commentary, “South Sudan’s Risky Political Impasse”, op. cit. Negotiations over the RPF highlighted IGAD rivalries. Uganda reportedly tried to prevent Ethiopian participation it saw as a move to increase influence over Juba. Crisis Group email exchange, senior UN official, 7 September 2016; “South Sudan army says it will fight regional security force if it enters country”, Radio Tamazuj, 21 July 2016.Hide Footnote

Relations have since improved. Officials of the current transitional government of national unity in Juba (TGoNU) supported the ending of Thokwath Pal’s long-running (though minimally active) rebellion in Ethiopia’s Gambella region.[fn]Thokwath Pal was the senior leader from Gambella in Ethiopia’s Derg regime (1974-1987, though Derg leader Mengistu Haile Mariam kept power until 1991). Crisis Group interview, Thokwath Pal, September 2016.Hide Footnote Subsequently, Ethiopia announced Machar would not be welcome as a rebel leader and officially received First Vice President Taban on 9 September. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s 28 October visit to Juba and a mutual commitment not to support each other’s rebels was another positive step.[fn]“S. Sudan’s FVP confers with Ethiopia leader”, 9 September 2016; “Ethiopia says will not allow Riek Machar to stay within territory”, 24 September 2016; “Ethiopia and South Sudan sign anti-rebels’ security agreement”, 28 October 2016, all articles in Sudan Tribune.Hide Footnote

Since widespread political protests broke out, Ethiopia is focused on its internal stability.[fn]Crisis Group interview, EU official, Addis Ababa, 15 September 2016.Hide Footnote Among cross-border communities, there are multiple, overlapping communal tensions that sometimes require national-level intervention. For example, after a large Murle raid from South Sudan into the Gambella region in April, the Ethiopian army (temporarily) deployed into South Sudan’s Boma state to secure the return of abducted children and monitor both sides of the border. This took place as another round of Anuyak conflict with Nuer in Gambella also required national-level intervention.[fn]There was also conflict in April between Nuer refugees and “highlander” populations that left at least eight Ethiopians dead and showed the refugees’ capacity for large-scale mobilisation. “Calm returns to Gambella town after clashes involving Nuer and highlanders”, Sudan Tribune, 25 April 2016. The Nuer refugee population in Gambella is now almost equal to the region’s Ethiopian population. Gambella’s population is around 320,000; the refugee population is reaching 320,000, and humanitarian aid planners estimate a further 100,000 will arrive in 2017. Crisis Group Skype interview, humanitarian official, November 2016. Further movement of Nuer refugees into Gambella, particularly as new camps may be located on Anuyak land, could lead to more violence. For more on communal conflicts between Nuer, Anuyak and Murle along the shared border, see Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Jonglei, op. cit.Hide Footnote It would reduce refugee inflows (by ensuring stability and humanitarian service delivery in South Sudan) and further contribute to improved relations and civilian quality of life if Juba were to limit armed group activity along the border and cross-border raiding.

2. Egypt

Egypt’s interests in South Sudan centre on Nile water and a shared history dating to the Anglo-Egyptian condominium.[fn]Cairo was wary of South Sudan’s independence, believing another Nile Basin state would complicate efforts to protect its regional interests. Crisis Group Africa Report N°159, Sudan: Regional Perspectives, op. cit., pp. 8-11.Hide Footnote It is embroiled in a long-running dispute over Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which it worries would reduce the river’s downstream flow.[fn]Egypt believes the dam will reduce the water flow, particularly as its reservoir fills, violating principles on preventing downstream harm and treaties on Nile water usage. Crisis Group Commentary, “South Sudan’s Risky Political Impasse”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Anticipating this, it is in talks with South Sudan on increasing the White Nile’s flow.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, South Sudanese officials, Juba, January 2014, August 2016.Hide Footnote Relations with Ethiopia became more visibly strained when Addis publicly accused unidentified Egyptians of arming groups in the country, which Cairo denies.[fn]William Davison, “Ethiopia alleges Oromo protesters receiving support from Egypt”, Bloomberg, 10 October 2016; Aaron Maasho, “Ethiopia blames foreign groups for stoking unrest,” Reuters, 10 October 2016; “Ethiopia blames Egypt and Eritrea over unrest”, BBC, 10 October 2016.Hide Footnote

Egypt has become an important ally on the UN Security Council, at a time when Juba faces calls from other Council members for further targeted sanctions, an arms embargo, demilitarisation of the capital and the RPF’s deployment. In August 2016, Egypt (along with Russia, China and Venezuela) abstained from the vote that mandated the RPF. Cairo’s offer to participate in the force – which received African Union (AU) endorsement – is seen as a move to limit Ethiopia’s influence, but it risks embroiling South Sudan in the two countries’ deteriorating relations.[fn]The AU Peace and Security Council welcomed Egypt’s readiness to participate in the RPF. “Communique of the 626th PSC meeting on the Situation of South Sudan”, 19 September 2016.Hide Footnote

C. The Regional Protection Force

In August, the UN Security Council (UNSC) mandated a 4,000-strong RPF to provide “a secure environment in and around Juba” by facilitating safe and free movement; and protecting civilians, UN and other humanitarian workers, the airport and other key facilities”. In response to Juba’s various objections, the resolution also calls for an arms embargo if there are “political or operational impediments to operationalising the RPF or obstructions to UNMISS in performance of its mandate”.[fn]UNSC S/RES/2304 (2016). “UN approves robust peace force in South Sudan”, Deutsche Welle, 12 August 2016; Crisis Group Commentary, “South Sudan’s Risky Political Impasse”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Though IGAD proposed the RPF (with U.S. prompting), the technical negotiations over implementation are between the UN, the region and TGoNU. Juba is already obligated to security arrangements under ARCSS and post-ARCSS deals. The RPF mandate differs from these and has required trilateral talks between the JMEC, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the transitional government. Though the threat of an arms embargo incentivised the government’s general consent to the RPF, it was the region backing Machar’s exile – and cutting off the possibility he would return to Juba with fighters – that finally prompted the TGoNU to accept the RPF unconditionally.

The UN’s initial thinking was that the force would be Ethiopian-led with a Kenyan contribution. Juba objected to its immediate neighbours’ participation. In a positive step for regional stability, Sudan and Uganda declined to participate, but Uganda is actively involved in the negotiations.[fn]Rwanda is an uncontroversial additional proposed primary contributor. “South Sudan sets new conditions after accepting deployment of protection force”, Sudan Tribune, 6 September 2016. This is part of a global debate over whether neighbours are ideal peacekeepers, a particularly acute concern in the Horn of Africa given its history of inter-state and proxy conflicts. Proponents argue that because neighbours are invested, they are more willing to undertake such dangerous work; opponents suggest they may be focused on their own national interest, which may be at odds with their host’s sustainable peace. See, for example, Paul D. Williams, Global and Regional Peacekeepers (New York, 2016), pp. 7-9. “Uganda, Sudan not part of regional forces deployment to South Sudan”, Sudan Tribune, 11 August 2016.Hide Footnote After the UN Secretary-General fired the Kenyan UNMISS force commander in November for lack of forceful action during the July fighting in Juba, Kenya said it also would not participate in the RPF.[fn]Kenya has so far removed only around 200 of its troops. Crisis Group interviews, New York, November 2016. There have been several internal and public UN and NGO investigations into reported failures in UNMISS responses to violence in Malakal in February and Juba in July. In October, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General resigned, and in November the force commander was fired. The mission is struggling to fulfil its existing mandate, let alone the challenges presented by an additional, discrete set of 4,000 troops. Crisis Group interviews, UNMISS officials, Juba, October 2016; “Letter dated 1 November 2016 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council”, UNSC S/2016/924, 1 November 2016.Hide Footnote IGAD called upon Kenya to reconsider in December.

If the RPF is able to increase security in Juba and its environs, in conjunction with the TGoNU, it could help deter further conflict. It could also create a security environment to encourage participation in national dialogue and other related negotiations to further the peace process.[fn]Many opposition figures in exile have expressed concern about their safety were they to return for national dialogue. For example, “Position of FDP-SSAF on President Salva Kiir’s call for national dialogue”, Federal Democratic Party-South Sudan Armed Forces, 16 December 2016.Hide Footnote However, significant deployment challenges remain, and UNMISS is ill-equipped for quick success given its recent failings, leadership gap and poor government relations. Moreover, when the RPF is eventually deployed, the UN Secretariat will need to provide close scrutiny and oversight in a regional environment whose dynamics could change, leading to competing national priorities within the force and with the TGoNU.

IV. The Transitional Government of National Unity

Late July saw formation of the second iteration of the TGoNU, with First Vice President Taban Deng replacing Machar. It initially focused, successfully, on gaining international recognition. By also improving ties with Khartoum, Juba now has a more amenable regional environment than at any time since independence. Yet, beside a collapsed economy, rebellions and grievances are widespread, and Juba must show in the next months whether it wants to and can tackle widespread insecurity.

A. Political Priorities

No longer hostage to the Kiir-Machar rivalry, the TGoNU is increasingly unified but to be more effective must bring armed groups and opposition-leaning communities into the governance structure. Implementation of the interconnected peace process, national dialogue and negotiations with armed groups must all take place to ensure an inclusive government. For example, ARCSS processes of cantonment of armed groups require negotiations with individual armed groups and will only lead to a sustainable result if communal grievances are addressed through dialogue. While Kiir is the national dialogue’s patron and the government is a stakeholder, the process is to be led by “eminent personalities and persons of consensus”. Kiir stated that national dialogue will begin at the grassroots level and move to the national level.[fn]Salva Kiir, “Speech on National Dialogue” to parliament, Juba, 14 December 2016.Hide Footnote For the first time since civil war began in 2013, the government is opening the door for dialogue with its citizens.

It is to take place under the parameters of the peace agreement, meaning, among other things, that Kiir’s presidency, which is guaranteed under ARCSS until 2018, would not be altered.[fn]“Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict”, op. cit.Hide Footnote The government is already backed by IGAD-PLUS members – including the UN, AU, IGAD, U.S. and China – meaning concerns about national dialogue serving to further entrench the government fail to recognise that it is already entrenched and does not need national dialogue for this. National dialogue offers the prospect – if implemented in good faith and with international support – of enabling the government to be more inclusive and better represent the nation. Support and capacity building, for both TGoNU and other dialogue participants, is required to ensure it is an effective and credible process and to mitigate the worst tendencies that may arise. International actors should help the TGoNU enhance its ability to make smart local deals and improve national-level systems, institutions, laws and processes to reduce conflict.

As rebellions are largely about political issues, a security sector response – counter-insurgency operations, cantonment, amnesty or armed group integration into the military – can only partially deal with underlying causes.

National dialogue may begin a process of moving away from the TGoNU’s prior focus on amnesties and other inducements to end rebellion, while avoiding consideration of underlying causes of rebellion. The TGoNU has indicated a willingness to compromise, including addressing grievances related to the controversial unilateral declaration to create 28 states (from the original ten) and cantonment of armed groups, but has not yet acted.[fn]ARCSS’ state-level power sharing was based on the ten-state structure; the October 2016 presidential decree was widely seen as contravening the agreement. The new states and their boundaries, while supported in some areas, are deeply unpopular in others and further exacerbate conflict in some places.Hide Footnote In other locations, it continues or maintains the threat of military action. As rebellions are largely about political issues, a security sector response – counter-insurgency operations, cantonment, amnesty or armed group integration into the military – can only partially deal with underlying causes. Juba should focus – through the peace process, national dialogue and negotiations with armed groups – on finding bespoke solutions to individual conflicts that help restore citizen faith in a broad-based state, and it should seek external support for inclusive political solutions.

To be successful, those must focus on four key areas: politics (eg, governance arrangements), local security dynamics, the economy and communal relations. The TGoNU’s acknowledgement that the new 28 state boundaries drive conflict in Malakal and Raja, as well as the recommendations of its report on violence in Wau, are steps toward the discrete processes necessary to tackle causes of rebellion.[fn]“South Sudan president set to further increase number of states”, Sudan Tribune, 19 October 2016; “Public Statement”, Lam Akol, Addis Ababa, 1 August 2016; Report of the Investigation Committee on Wau Incident of 24-26 June 2016, Republic of South Sudan, 1 August 2016.Hide Footnote Yet, balancing interests within and between competing communities is difficult in South Sudan’s winner-take-all environment.

B. Security Sector

The TGoNU is working on joint security sector architecture that includes short- and longer-term activities and reforms intended to support conflict resolution. These are:

  • halt fighting;
  • separate forces;
  • withdraw to assembly/cantonment sites and conduct related activities, such as registration and arms control;
  • conduct a Strategic Defence and Security Review – mandated to make recommendations on integration and demobilisation parameters by early 2017; and
  • begin integration, demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) or other processes.[fn]It is not anticipated that these processes will begin at the same time across the country. The timeline for the Strategic Defence and Security Review was agreed at the Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements (PCTSA) workshop in September 2016.Hide Footnote

The TGoNU approved cantonment for opposition forces in Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Equatoria. The Joint Military Ceasefire Commission (JMCC) identified a first set of sites in the Equatorias and Bahr el Ghazal (for the time being it has left aside cantonment in Greater Upper Nile).[fn]The Joint Military Ceasefire Commission is comprised of members from both warring parties and is to directly oversee the forces in cantonment. Cantonment is a process whereby forces move to approved, secure sites where they are provided for while beginning registration, integration or DDR. Cantonment is hoped to begin between February and May 2017 in four different locations in the Equatorias. Crisis Group interview, security sector adviser, Nairobi, December 2016.Hide Footnote It does not view the conflicts in the Equatorias and Bahr el Ghazal as part of the same rebellion as Greater Upper Nile. Unlike the August 2015-July 2016 period, the SPLM/A-IO leaders in the TGoNU are not using cantonment for recruitment, but, as intended, as a significant step towards the permanent ceasefire.[fn]Prior to July, the wartime government had not committed to cantonment in the Equatorias and Greater Bahr el Ghazal and focused on Greater Upper Nile. Given the ongoing conflict in the Equatorias and more recent fighting in Bahr el Ghazal, the government is hoping cantonment can reduce conflict there. Crisis Group interviews, JMCC member, Juba, October 2016. Crisis Group Report, South Sudan’s South, op. cit., p.19-22.Hide Footnote Kiir and Taban Deng see it as a way forward, particularly to address smaller rebellions. Cantonment will likely require international support, which may be on offer, but senior officials are also lobbying the Council of Ministers for internal financial assistance.[fn]Many in Juba believe the Equatorian conflicts would not have emerged as they did without Machar’s incitement and think that isolating the Equatorians from Machar is a first step to resolving them. Some Equatorian opposition members are increasingly amenable to this view. Crisis Group interview, government minister, Juba, October 2016; Equatorian SPLM-IO member, Nairobi, November 2016. The Council of Ministers includes all government ministers and meets with President Kiir every Friday.Hide Footnote

Cantonment is a step toward peace that should enable reform and professionalisation but is not, on its own, a long-term solution. Much too frequently security forces’ response to rebellion includes mistreatment of civilians, which exacerbates conflict. Many of the forces recruited since the start of the 2012 border war have received almost no training, lack discipline and have little respect for command. Some also do not know about the laws of war and act with impunity.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLA soldiers, civilians, Juba, Bentiu, Pibor, 2013-2016.Hide Footnote

The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) Board, established as part of ARCSS, intends to recommend by early 2017 a revised defence and security policy, including the size and composition of the army, integration of armed groups and DDR parameters.[fn]The SDSR will make recommendations on the security sector’s ”future command, function, size, composition and budget”, demobilisation requirements, the role of different security forces and management and oversight of the security sector. Crisis Group Report, South Sudan’s South, op. cit., p. 18. Crisis Group interview, SDSR Board member, Juba, October 2016.Hide Footnote Juba has long used the security sector as a short-term bandage to address a host of thorny political issues. The review process should be supported to ensure that security sector deals, such as blanket integration of fighters and “promotion” of rebel officers, do not continue to be the primary means of ending rebellions.[fn]Armed groups’ military integration is a preferred method, though it has failed.Hide Footnote As a mitigation measure meanwhile, donors should educate forces on the laws of war.

At the same time, the SPLA continues to strengthen its bilateral relations, focusing on arms, equipment and infrastructure support, further outpacing rebel groups. There is, however, little appetite within the army for major offensives into Nuer opposition strongholds in Latjior or East and West Bieh. The status quo is acceptable to both war-weary sides. Only a change in the regional position of Sudan or Ethiopia or a surge in armed activity by SPLA-IO members is likely to force a government offensive in those areas.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLA officers, Juba, October 2016.Hide Footnote The TGoNU understands that time is on its side so long as it can deny major opposition forces external support.

However, localised and limited conflict may continue or restart in areas such as the former Unity state and Western Upper Nile. Conflict is only likely to become more significant if opposition forces receive military resupply. In Unity, the TGoNU has brought historic enemies together in an uncomfortable alliance against a small number of SPLA-IO forces that have not joined it and multiple armed youth groups with varying loyalties. The Aguelek forces on the Nile’s west bank of Johnson Olony, who rejected peace overtures, may continue small-scale attacks on government positions; Olony and some of his forces were recently attacked by competing rebel forces loyal to General Tanginye.[fn]Crisis Group interview, SPLM-IO member, SPLA officer, Nairobi, December 2016.Hide Footnote

C. Economy

The deep economic crisis limits the government’s options. Revenues, usually 95 per cent derived from oil, fell drastically with the 2012 shutdown, the outbreak of civil war, damage to industry infrastructure and the global decline in oil prices since 2014.[fn]“South Sudan African Economic Outlook 2016”, African Development Bank, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, UN Development Programme, 2016. Prior to the oil shutdown, South Sudan produced 330,000 barrels per day. While production recovered by the end of 2013 to some 235,000 barrels, it fell back to 160,000 barrels after the civil war’s outbreak. It expects net oil-revenue in fiscal year 2015/2016 to be only 17 per cent of that in 2014/2015. “Republic of South Sudan 2014 Article IV Consultation – Staff Report; Staff Statement; and Press Release”, IMF, December 2014.Hide Footnote The government’s reliance on loans to cover expenditures, including ballooning military spending, increased debt obligations.[fn]This is in addition to oil transit fees South Sudan has to pay to Sudan. Ibid.Hide Footnote The consumer price index has doubled since June, and annual inflation reached 835.7 per cent in October.[fn]“South Sudan Inflation Rate”, “South Sudan Consumer Price Index Cpi”, Trading Economics (; “Drastic food price increases further reduce household food access in South Sudan”, alert, Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), 23 August 2016.Hide Footnote Mitigating measures such as the December 2015 exchange rate liberalisation have not improved conditions. Poverty has increased to the point that humanitarian agencies now provide emergency services in Juba.[fn]The pound’s value dropped almost 90 per cent. “South Sudan African Economic Outlook 2016”, op. cit. “IMF Staff Completes”, op. cit. Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian officials, Juba, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Despite IMF warnings, the government likely will finance some of the anticipated $1.1 billion 2016/2017 budget deficit by accumulating arrears. The IMF has stressed that the central bank needs to regain control of monetary policy, raise non-oil revenue and strengthen expenditure controls and budget preparation. However, even if implemented, there is little hope reforms alone can address the crisis. With neither the IMF, major donors nor the government pushing for a bailout package, the crisis is likely to deepen and lead to growing humanitarian crisis, lack of salary payments and further collapse of civilian institutions as security sector obligations continue to be prioritised.[fn]The IMF urged the central bank to refrain “from lending to the government, setting inflation on a decelerating path, and gradually start replenishing its international reserves”. “IMF Staff Completes”, op. cit. 2016. External sources will most likely be needed to fill the gap. Ibid.Hide Footnote

V. Armed and Unarmed Opposition Groups

Kiir’s success in consolidating power surprised the SPLM/A-IO, many of whom are still reeling from the altered state of affairs. Machar remains committed to leading an armed struggle despite his inability to resupply his fighters and international attempts to isolate him. The SPLA-IO lost members from the former Unity state who joined Taban Deng, while gaining new ones in the former Central Equatoria. Dr Lam Akol, head of the largest opposition political party, resigned and launched the National Democratic Movement (NDM), which intends to encompass armed and unarmed opposition groups. The “SPLM-Leaders” (Former Detainees) lack unity, with some in exile calling for a UN trusteeship, while others hold ministerial portfolios in the TGoNU.[fn]“The Resolutions of the SPLM/SPLA (IO) Political Bureau Meeting, September 20-23 2016, Khartoum, Sudan”, SPLM/A-IO, 23 September 2016. “Pagan Amum says campaigning for foreign intervention in South Sudan”, Radio Tamajuz, 4 August 2016.Hide Footnote Kiir surprised many exiled political and civil society leaders who were calling for a new political process with his announcement of national dialogue. If these efforts are not successful, conflict will continue, somewhat restrained by lack of external support.

A. Status of the SPLM/A-IO

The SPLM/A-IO has changed significantly.[fn]This section describes some of the challenges and objectives of the larger SPLM/A-IO membership groupings but is not a comprehensive list of all SPLM/A-IO components.Hide Footnote While it retains members through the Nuer heartland, save parts of the former Unity state, the most active fronts are no longer there. Parts of the former Central and Western Equatoria and Fertit areas of Bahr el Ghazal state have seen the most fighting in 2016, and the SPLM/A-IO’s strongest armed forces are the Shilluk under Johnson Olony. The SPLM/A-IO remains a “fractious rebellion” whose primary shared objective is Kiir’s downfall, but it is also a genuinely multi-ethnic coalition.[fn]Its armed Dinka component under General Dau Aturjong rejoined the government in July, however, and since then it has had almost no Dinka members.Hide Footnote With Machar’s position, as both internationally recognised leader and arms supplier, weakened, many leaders of the SPLM/A-IO’s smaller groupings are under pressure from Juba and the region to join the TGoNU or national dialogue or accept a discrete peace deal.[fn]“A Fractious Rebellion: Inside the SPLM-IO”, Small Arms Survey, September 2015. Many in the SPLA-IO feel the conditions offered to join the government are far less favourable than they are entitled to because it was an “unfair fight” in which the government received Ugandan support and was freely able to re-arm and acquire advanced weapons. Crisis Group interview, senior SPLA-IO general, September 2016; SPLA-IO members, Addis Ababa, Juba, SPLA-IO controlled areas in South Sudan, 2014-2016.Hide Footnote

In late November, some SPLM/A-IO leaders met in Khartoum to consider the way forward given Machar’s international isolation. Subsequently, Machar appointed Henry Odwar, an Equatorian, deputy commander in chief, and Tingo Peter, a Fertit, SPLM/A-IO secretary general. It is widely believed that he selected politicians unlikely to challenge his overall leadership and who may not be able to lead the movement out of the woods.[fn]Neither are well connected to the armed leadership on the ground, thus protecting Machar from a potential challenge from the military leadership. Crisis Group interviews, SPLM/A-IO members, November 2016.Hide Footnote The moves were controversial among many Nuer SPLM/A-IO, who allege he seeks to protect his position at the expense of the movement’s Nuer majority, which believes someone from its community should have been appointed to act on Machar’s behalf.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLM/A-IO members, November, December 2016.Hide Footnote Machar’s SPLM/A-IO have mixed feelings about the dialogue; some would consider participation if it addressed the killings of Nuer in Juba in December 2013, while others dismiss it out of hand.[fn]Press release, SPLM-IO, 15 December 2016; Crisis Group interviews, SPLM/A-IO members, Nairobi, December 2016.Hide Footnote

1. Nuer unity and disunity

Much of 2015-2016 was characterised by disunity among Nuer opposition leaders and groups. For example, three top generals renounced Machar, the SPLM/A-IO debated whether to rejoin the SPLM or become its own party and internal manoeuvrings for positions and influence in the transitional government were deeply divisive.[fn]Generals Gabriel Gatwech Chan “Tanginye”, Peter Gatdet Yaka and Gathoth Gatkuoth Hothnyang left the SPLM/A-IO. Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Keeping Faith, op. cit.; Crisis Group Commentary, “South Sudan’s Risky Political Impasse”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Many blame Machar for returning to Juba with such a small force.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLM/A-IO members and civilians in SPLM/A-IO controlled areas, September 2016.Hide Footnote At the same time, even Nuer critics believe he was mistreated, and the July fighting was another government attack on their community.[fn]Crisis Group interview, General Peter Gatdet Yaka, September 2016.Hide Footnote “We knew we were going back to fight”, an SPLA-IO member said, “but we did not know Juba would once again be a killing ground for Nuer”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, SPLA-IO member, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Apart from many northern Unity Nuer, most are united in opposition to the TGoNU, but this does not translate into support for one leader or shared platform. Many Nuer also question continued support for Machar.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, eastern Nuer leaders, Addis Ababa, September, Nairobi, October 2016.Hide Footnote Any attempts he makes to reorganise the armed opposition will bring to the fore the same issues, but the group now lacks external support and legitimacy. A sustainable peace, however, requires that the Nuer communities who support Machar’s SPLM/A-IO be brought into the TGoNU.

2. The Shilluk question

When Johnson Olony and his Aguelek forces defected to the SPLA-IO in May 2015 and briefly captured Melut town, it was the culmination of long-simmering disputes between the Shilluk and Dinka Padang and resulted in the last major conventional military conflict in Greater Upper Nile. In October 2015, Yohannes Okiech launched a smaller Shilluk rebellion, the Tiger Faction New Forces.[fn]Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Keeping Faith, op. cit., p. 14. “South Sudan’s new rebel group unveil demands to end hostilities”, Sudan Tribune, 2 November 2015.Hide Footnote At stake for both is the loss of historic Shilluk land and their position in a state where the government questions their loyalty.[fn]It is a consequence of many Shilluk defections from the SPLA in 1991.Hide Footnote The Shilluk and neighbouring Dinka Padang have contested territory, including Malakal (one of South Sudan’s largest cities), for years. The civil war changed the dynamics, as the government supported the Dinka Padang, allowing them to press their land claims with force, while Shilluk groups responded in kind.[fn]“Letter … from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan … to the President of the Security Council”, UNSC S/2016/70, 22 January 2016.Hide Footnote

Olony’s forces remain the best-armed SPLA-IO contingents but lack immediate options for resupply. Following July’s fighting, the government sought to draw him back to its side, offering substantial concessions, including over Malakal. At the same time, Lam Akol sought to bring the Aguelek under the NDM’s umbrella. Neither succeeded, but Olony remains primarily committed to the Shilluk cause. There could be more clashes, such as those that took place in October, though circumstances may change if the government moves forward with national dialogue and plans to redraw the new state boundaries to the Shilluk’s benefit, and Sudanese support is still not forthcoming.[fn]Many Aguelek leaders questioned government sincerity. Crisis Group interviews, government official, Juba, October 2016; SPLA-IO official, Nairobi, September 2016. On the clashes, see “South Sudan: at least 56 rebels and four SPLA soldiers killed in clashes”, The Guardian, 17 October 2016; “SPLA-IO admits losing control of areas after fighting near Malakal”, Radio Tamazuj, 23 October 2016.Hide Footnote

3. The Equatorian struggle

After their expulsion from Juba in July, Machar and SPLA-IO allies fled south through areas around Lanya, Yei, Mundri and Morobo and eventually into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Though his forces in Juba were primarily Nuer, Machar’s months of recruitment in the Equatorias paid off, as some Equatorians left Juba with him, and others joined during his flight.[fn]Equatorian support for Machar in Juba and an attack on the SPLA barracks in Yei during the fighting in Juba seemed to confirm some of the government’s fears of an “Equatorian fifth column” and are used as justification for increasing surveillance, detention and other mistreatment of Equatorian civilians suspected of disloyalty.Hide Footnote While most Nuer SPLA-IO crossed into DRC, some stayed behind to fight alongside Equatorian SPLA-IO. This was the first time Machar’s vision of a multi-ethnic rebel force was a reality. Equatorian General Martin Kenyi remained in charge of the overall front, and a Nuer, John Jok Gai, is the operational commander around Yei.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Equatorian intellectuals and SPLM/A-IO members and officials, Juba, Nairobi, October 2016.Hide Footnote While the region previously had largely rejected Machar’s entreaties to join the rebellion, the treatment of civilians by the government forces pursuing the SPLA-IO finally turned the tide against Juba.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLA-IO members, Juba, May 2016, Nairobi, September 2016; Equatorian civilians, Juba, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Most SPLA-IO forces in the Equatorias are poorly armed and trained, with no realistic hope of resupply. Nevertheless, they are fighting a successful guerrilla campaign. They have cut off or made travel extremely risky along many routes and threatened the SPLA with ambush outside of towns. Resulting harsh government treatment of local communities, on grounds that they support the rebels, has led to increased rebel support. In one of the most egregious incidents, soldiers killed more than twenty civilians outside Kitigiri in August.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLA-IO officials, Equatorian leaders, October 2016. “South Sudan: New Abuse of Civilians by Both Sides”, Human Rights Watch, November 2016. Abuses include indiscriminate killings, rape, violence against civilians and widespread looting. Some civilians report that soldiers take the opportunity of a relatively lawless atmosphere to settle grudges. Crisis Group interviews, Equatorian civilians, victims and eyewitnesses, September, October 2016.Hide Footnote

With international actors wary of engaging with an army with an abysmal human rights record, thousands of untrained youth will likely continue contributing to a cycle of atrocities, leaving one of South Sudan’s most prosperous regions in ruins.

Rebel forces also target civilian transport and deliberately kill Dinka civilians. Most attacks begin with indiscriminate shooting at vehicles, killing civilians of all ethnicities. This has led to calls for revenge on Equatorian civilians, particularly those living in Dinka areas.[fn]This is despite the involvement of Nuer SPLA-IO forces in some of these attacks.Hide Footnote Though Equatorian civilians generally support the insurgents, rape, forced recruitment, abduction and detention by rebels, as well as the threats on the road and their impact on trade have made some more hesitant. A civilian from Yei said, “we cannot stay in the town, because the soldiers are killing the people, but we cannot escape on the roads or the rebels can kill us”.[fn]“South Sudan: New Abuse of Civilians”, op. cit. Crisis Group interview, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Many in the SPLA realise they need a different strategy to win the war and recall their late leader John Garang’s successful Equatorian recruitment during the civil war, after a similar period of conflict with local communities.[fn]Crisis Group Report, South Sudan’s South, op. cit.Hide Footnote However, most soldiers are too young to remember this, lack training and have no idea what successful counter-insurgency requires. With international actors wary of engaging with an army with an abysmal human rights record, thousands of untrained youth will likely continue contributing to a cycle of atrocities, leaving one of South Sudan’s most prosperous regions in ruins.

4. The Fertit

Much like with the Shilluk, the conflict in Fertit areas in the former Western Bahr el Ghazal state centres on land and power and is exacerbated by divisions from the second Sudanese civil war.[fn]During the war, many Fertit and Dinka fought on opposing sides. Daniel S. Blocq, “Grassroots nature of counterinsurgent tribal militia formation: the case of the Fertit in Southern Sudan, 1985-1989”, Journal of Eastern African Studies, vol. 8, no 4 (2014), pp. 710-724.Hide Footnote Driving the violence is a struggle for control of Wau town and the division of Fertit areas into two new states, including locating Fertit-majority Raja town in a state with many Dinka Malual rather than fellow Fertit of Wau. Fertit rebels control territory south west of Wau and have launched small attacks around Raja, briefly overrunning the town in June.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Fertit SPLM-IO member, October 2016.Hide Footnote The early 2016 counter-insurgency campaign was marred by abuses. After attacks and intimidation, many Fertit fled Wau. Those that remain have grouped together in locations perceived as safe and do not feel free to move at night or outside the town.[fn]“South Sudan: Civilians Killed, Tortured in Western Region, Human Rights Watch, 24 May 2016. Wau was already a somewhat segregated city, but Fertit have now concentrated in “safe” places. Crisis Group interviews, Fertit civilians, Juba, 2016, Nairobi, September 2016.Hide Footnote

External actors have limited contact with Fertit communities, in part due to language, religion and their historic affiliation with Sudan, which undermines efforts to support conflict resolution.[fn]Many educated Fertit speak Arabic rather than English and they tend to displace into Sudan where Western advocates lack access. Raja, which has many Muslims, had the highest proportion of voters in favour of unity with Sudan during the 2011 referendum. Crisis Group interviews, Juba, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, 2014-2016; “Southern Sudan Referendum Final Results Report”, Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, February 2011.Hide Footnote A government investigation of the violence in Wau town was unflinching in describing the conflict’s roots, its ethnic dimensions and the need for a combination of political, security and reconciliation efforts to stabilise the region. The government proposed that the boundary issue affecting Raja be addressed and cantonment begin and is engaged in other efforts to tackle the conflict.[fn]Report of the Investigation Committee”, op. cit. “South Sudan President set to further increase number of states”, Sudan Tribune, 19 October 2016.Hide Footnote Yet, given these efforts’ lack of urgency, the conflict is likely to remain in stasis.

5. SPLA-IO Forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Following July’s fighting, most SPLM/A-IO in the TGoNU fled Juba. The majority reached the DRC by August.[fn]Fighting killed hundreds of the 1,400 troops who went to Juba. Because Kampala has long made clear it would defend its territory against their incursions, the SPLM/A-IO went to the DRC, which has long relations with Khartoum and an ungoverned border zone. Crisis Group interviews, eyewitnesses, October 2016; telephone interview, SPLA-IO member now in DRC, July 2016.Hide Footnote They requested assistance from Sudan, which engaged Kinshasa, which in turn asked MONUSCO (the UN Stabilisation Mission in DRC) to give humanitarian aid. MONUSCO moved most to Goma, where they received medical and food help under conditions of restricted movement.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, SPLA-IO member in DRC, August 2016; “MONUSCO extracted hundreds of individuals from the Garamba National Park on humanitarian grounds”, MONUSCO press release, 10 September 2016. MONUSCO disarmed them prior to the move.Hide Footnote Sudan soon airlifted Machar and some 150 men from Goma; he and the senior leadership went to Khartoum, while the soldiers returned to Pagak (the former SPLA-IO headquarters). Following its agreement with Juba not to support Machar, Sudan halted transportation, so most fighters remain in Goma.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, SPLA-IO soldiers, Pagak, September 2016; Sudanese officials, October 2016. Both the Congolese government and the local community in Goma want them gone. “Hundreds protest presence of S. Sudan rebels in DRC”, Worldbulletin, 2 October 2016.Hide Footnote

What to do with these forces and who is responsible for them is not obvious. Kinshasa requested MONUSCO’s involvement and now treats them as the UN’s responsibility. Its actions were controversial within the UN, raising concerns it may not have consulted first with the Security Council.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Security Council member, New York, 2016.Hide Footnote This fed perceptions in Juba that the UN supports the SPLA-IO and further undermines UNMISS-government relations.[fn]“MONUSCO extracted hundreds of individuals”, op. cit; “Congo demands deportation of South Sudan rebels by U.N. mission”, Reuters, 5 October 2016. Crisis Group interviews, UN Security Council member, October 2016; government officials, October 2016.Hide Footnote

B. Non-SPLM/A-IO Armed and Political Opposition

The opposition is diverse, including armed and unarmed groups and individuals. United against Kiir, they lack a shared program for the future, which undermines their ability to challenge Juba. Machar’s recent challenges gave figures outside the SPLM/A-IO opportunities, but most are in exile, and their support on the ground varies greatly. There is a danger that international actors will focus excessively on these leaders, so fail to understand rapidly changing domestic dynamics.

1. Lam Akol and the National Democratic Movement

Following July’s conflict, the senior Shilluk politician Dr Lam Akol, head of the Democratic Change Party (DCP) and then agriculture minister, resigned his official positions. He travelled through the region, receiving a warm welcome in Sudan, while canvassing other opposition leaders and groups.[fn]“Public Statement”, op. cit. Lam is a longstanding SPLM/A critic and launched the SPLA-Nasir faction with Machar in 1991 to fight the SPLM/A. Dr. Lam Akol, SPLM/SPLA: Inside an African Revolution, 3rd edition (Khartoum, 2011). Prior to independence, Lam returned to Juba and launched the SPLM-Democratic Change Party (changed to the DCP in 2016.) For years his party was the SPLM’s largest challenger and sought to chart a path for a political opposition in the new state. Crisis Group interviews, SPLM-DC members, SPLM members, Juba, 2013-2016.Hide Footnote In a September meeting of opposition groups in Nairobi, he launched the NDM to serve as an umbrella for the armed and unarmed opposition.[fn]“South Sudan Democratic Movement/Cobra Press Statement”, press release, SSDM/Cobra, 27 September 2016. The NDM is similar in concept to Sudan’s National Democratic Alliance – a coalition of Sudanese political parties, professional organisations and trade unions launched in October 1989 to counter the National Islamic Front regime. The SPLM/A joined it in 1990 and Dr. Lam was involved in some of the negotiations. Dr Lam Akol, SPLM/SPLA, op. cit.Hide Footnote Unaligned armed group leaders have shown interest in joining. Political opposition leaders, particularly Equatorians, are already members. The NDM also seeks to pull in civil society and other activists inspired by 2012’s “Sudan Call” movement in Sudan.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, non-SPLM/A-IO military leaders, Nairobi, September 2016, by telephone, October 2016. “South Sudan Democratic Movement/Cobra Press Statement”, SSDM/Cobra, 27 September 2016. Sudan Call united armed and political opposition to work for Sudanese government reform.Hide Footnote

An SPLA general who fought beside him in the 1980s said Lam “wants to lead a revolution not a rebellion”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, SPLA officer, Juba, October 2016.Hide Footnote Through the organisation, he has carved out an influential role as the head of many non-aligned rebel groups, political parties and opposition civil society.

2. SPLM-Leaders/Former Political Detainees

Following release in 2014, the former political detainees, now known as the SPLM-Leaders, participated as a separate bloc in the IGAD mediation. Differences in opinion were apparent over how the group should position itself.[fn]The group known as SPLM-Leaders/Former Detainees (FD) includes Pagan Amum Okech, Oyay Deng, General Gier Choung Aloung, Dr Majak D’Agoot, John Luk Jok, Dr Cirino Hiteng, Deng Alor Kuol, Madut Biar, Kosti Manibe, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth and Chol Tong Mayay. For example, Ambassador Ezekiel Lol Gatkouth (now petroleum minister) left the bloc and joined the SPLM/A-IO in 2014. Crisis Group interviews, SPLM-Leaders, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, 2014-2015.Hide Footnote Those who returned to Juba are committed to making the best of challenging circumstances, and in April some took up ministerial portfolios allocated to the bloc in ARCSS; Deng Alor is foreign and John Luk Jok transport minister.[fn]Deng Alor is the most senior politician from Abyei, which the CPA guaranteed a referendum on whether to join Sudan or South Sudan that was never credibly held. Though many from Abyei are frustrated with Kiir’s government, they realise they need its backing to avoid the area staying in Sudan. Crisis Group interviews, politicians from Abyei, Addis Ababa, Juba, 2015-2016.Hide Footnote When the TGoNU was formed, Chol Tong Mayai left the bloc to rejoin the government and SPLM.

Despite participation during the civil war in SPLM reconciliation processes in Tanzania, others never reconciled with the wartime government or returned to Juba. Many have strong connections to current and former U.S. officials and influential lobby groups.[fn]Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Keeping Faith, op. cit.; interviews, SPLM-Leaders, current and former U.S. officials, lobby group members, Juba, Addis Ababa, Washington, 2014-2016.Hide Footnote The perceived nexus between their positions and U.S. government policy leads many in Juba to see such policies – which are unfavourable toward the government – as motivated by these critics. Of these, the most controversial is Pagan Amum, a former SPLM secretary general, who has called for South Sudan to be placed under UN trusteeship.[fn]“Pagan Amum says”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Dr Majak D’Agoot, a former deputy defence minister, has also become a frequent public government critic.[fn]See, for example “Former political detainee calls on Kiir and Machar to resign”, Radio Tamazuj, 13 July 2016.Hide Footnote

VI. Conclusion

South Sudan’s short but turbulent post-independence trajectory took another twist following July’s fighting in Juba. The wartime government used the opportunity to consolidate power and exploit a split in the SPLM/A-IO. It capitalised on its improving relationship with Sudan to isolate Machar and cut off support to the SPLM/A-IO. The region and wider international community largely followed suit. The next chapter depends on Juba. In taking tangible steps, with Uganda’s support, toward a wider settlement between the Sudans on support for each other’s armed rebel groups, it could further weaken armed opposition in both countries. It also has the opportunity to negotiate sustainable settlements with armed groups and disaffected communities to break the cycle of rebellions and military integration of armed groups. Its next steps will determine whether the country is on the path to peace or still mired in perpetual conflict and economic crisis.

Juba/Nairobi/Brussels, 20 December 2016

Appendix A: Map of South Sudan’s Historic Regions and the Border with Sudan

Map of South Sudan’s Historic Regions and the Border with Sudan CRISIS GROUP/Based on UN map 4450, October 2011.

Appendix B: Glossary

ARCSS: Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan

AU: African Union

AUHIP: Africa Union High-Level Implementation Panel

CPA: Comprehensive Peace Agreement

DCP: Democratic Change Party, South Sudanese opposition political party founded by Dr Lam Akol.

DRC: Democratic Republic of Congo

GERD: Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

IGAD: Intergovernmental Authority on Development

IMF: International Monetary Fund

JBVMM: Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission

JEM: Justice and Equality Movement, Darfur rebel group under leadership of Gibril Ibrahim.

JMCC: Joint Military Ceasefire Commission

JMEC: Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission

LRA-RTF: Lord’s Resistance Army-Regional Task Force

NDM: National Democratic Movement, South Sudanese opposition political movement under leadership of Dr Lam Akol.

PCTSA: Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements

RCI-LRA: Regional Coordination Initiative for the elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army

RPF: Regional Protection Force

SAF: Sudan Armed Forces

SDBZ: Safe Demilitarised Border Zone

SDSR: Strategic Defence and Security Review

SLM/A-AW: Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army-Abdel Wahid, Darfur rebel group led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur.

SLM/A-MM: Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army-Minni Minnawi, Darfur rebel group led by Minni Minnawi.

SPLM/A: South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army

SPLM/A-IO: South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition

SPLM/A-N: South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North, Sudanese rebel group active in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

SPLM-FD: South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Former Detainees

SRF: Sudanese Revolutionary Front, Coalition of Sudanese rebel groups from Darfur and the Two Areas founded in 2011.

SSDM/A: South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army, South Sudanese anti-SPLA rebel group mainly active in the former Jonglei and Upper Nile states in 2010-2012.

SSLM/A: South Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, South Sudanese anti-SPLA rebel group mainly operational in the former Unity state.

TFA: Transitional Financial Arrangements

TGoNU: Transitional Government of National Unity

UNHCR: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNMISS: United Nations Mission in South Sudan

UPDF: Uganda People’s Defence Force

Peacekeeping troops from China, deployed by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), patrol outside the premises of the UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Juba, South Sudan, on 4 October 2016. AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran
Report 288 / Africa

China’s Foreign Policy Experiment in South Sudan

China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

China’s longstanding principle of non-interference in other states’ internal affairs is evolving with its growing global footprint. As Chinese overseas investment and business links grow in scope and depth, Beijing faces increasing threats to its citizens, economic interests and international reputation. That, in turn, has confronted China with the inherent limitations of its traditional hands-off foreign policy posture. How it responds over time will have a profound impact on Beijing’s international role. The most prominent test case appears to be Africa and, within the continent, South Sudan, where Chinese measures to protect its citizens and economic interests, coupled with its support for an end to the war and pursuit of humanitarian objectives, seem a calculated trial run for a more proactive global role.

China first experimented with deeper involvement in Sudan in response to powerful international criticism (culminating in calls to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics) of its support for Khartoum, which was fighting a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur. Using its influence with the Sudanese government and in the UN Security Council, China helped ensure deployment of UN peacekeepers to Darfur in 2008. Later, when Libya’s civil war erupted in 2012, China’s evacuation of its citizens generated national pride and increased both its people’s and its investors’ expectations about Beijing’s global profile. In both instances, China extended the boundaries of its time-honoured diplomacy, suggesting growing willingness to take action when its interests are threatened.

When South Sudan’s civil war broke out in late 2013, Chinese advocates of a more flexible interpretation of the non-intervention policy saw an opportunity to try new approaches to protect their nation’s interests. Several factors were at play. Huge investments made the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) both an economic and political actor. At the same time, China’s interests were aligned with those of others – mediators and Western powers – seeking to end the conflict. Working together with the Horn of Africa’s regional body – the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), charged with mediating South Sudan’s peace process – and Western actors, Chinese policymakers believed they could intervene constructively while managing reputational risks.

This was a step beyond its traditional approach: Beijing could claim broad adherence to the non-interference principle even as it used its influence to bring warring parties together and bridge differences between Western actors and South Sudanese leaders. It engaged in the peace process held in Ethiopia, hosted discreet talks among warring factions in Sudan, shaped UN Security Council action, sent peacekeepers to the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and joined the August 2015 peace agreement oversight body.

This is a crucial time for peacemaking in South Sudan and a crucial time for China to test its newfound role. It’s important to get both efforts right.

In short, China might still oppose interference in others’ affairs, but its definition has become more elastic. It continues to draw a line at intruding on matters of domestic governance; opposes regime change or unilateral military intervention; and believes that showing respect, rather than exerting pressure or inflicting punishment, is how to elicit cooperation and improvement in governance. Having itself been a victim of sanctions and public opprobrium, it favours more discreet persuasion. But direct involvement can be justified when civil conflicts cross borders, threaten regional security and stability or create large humanitarian crises, and when regional and local authorities and the UN have granted their imprimatur. In such cases, China tends to support political dialogue without imposing outcomes, save when those directly relate to the safety of its citizens or investments.

If China’s steps are tentative, there is good reason. It is aware of its newcomer status to international peace and security efforts, particularly via multilateral institutions, and is careful not to overreach. It is actively learning from its own experiences and the successes and missteps of other would-be peacemakers. Its diplomatic corps is not yet sufficiently staffed or trained. But its considerable economic and political influence mean that, when it steps in, it inevitably brings leverage to the table that traditional mediation efforts – whether in South Sudan or elsewhere – sometimes lack.

Despite differences in approach, so far collaborating in South Sudan has benefited China, Western countries, their African partners and the South Sudanese people. They should continue along this path. This is a crucial time for peacemaking in South Sudan and a crucial time for China to test its newfound role. It’s important to get both efforts right.

Beijing/Nairobi/Juba/Brussels, 10 July 2017

I. Introduction

China’s involvement with Sudan’s southern region began when it forged a partnership with Khartoum to develop its oil industry in the late 1990s. For much of the previous decade the West had worked to isolate the Sudanese government for human rights abuses and support for terrorism.[fn]For previous reporting on China’s involvement in South Sudan, see Africa Reports N°186, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, 4 April 2012; N°39, God Oil & Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan, 10 January 2002. For recent work on South Sudan, see Africa Reports N°236, South Sudan’s South: Conflict in the Equatorias, 25 May 2016; N°243, South Sudan: Rearranging the Chessboard, 20 December 2016.Hide Footnote U.S. sanctions, and the country’s prolonged civil wars (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) – fought in the vicinity of major oil deposits, mostly in the south – deterred investors.[fn]For a summary of U.S. sanctions against Sudan, see “Brief Timeline of Key of Key Sanctions Events in Sudan”, Center for Global Development, 6 October 2011; Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°127, Time to Repeal U.S. Sanctions on Sudan?, 22 June 2017.Hide Footnote

In March 1997, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and a consortium of mostly Asian oil companies signed an oil development deal with the government.[fn]Luke Patey, The New Kings of Crude: China, India, and the Global Struggle for Oil in Sudan and South Sudan (London, 2014).Hide Footnote Then new to overseas investment and operations and less daunted by security and political risks than most companies, CNPC obtained concessions for largely untapped oil reserves with limited competition. Other Chinese companies followed, leading to closer bilateral political and diplomatic ties.

Khartoum’s enemies, particularly the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) fighting the government in the South, said China was enabling an autocratic regime and tied the Chinese-financed oil investments to mass displacement, gross human rights violations and environmental degradation.[fn]Crisis Group Report N°39, God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in SudanGod, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan, 10 January 2002; “The scorched earth: oil and war in Sudan”, Christian Aid, 13 March 2001; “Sudan: The Human Price of Oil”, Amnesty International, 4 May 2000; “Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights”, Human Rights Watch, 24 November 2003.Hide Footnote The government sought to prevent Chinese contact with Southern rebels, and Beijing largely obliged.

Keen to tap into an underdeveloped market with, at the time, few competitors, Chinese nationals and companies flocked to South Sudan after it achieved formal independence in July 2011.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the Second Sudanese Civil War and paved the way for the South’s independence, dramatically changed the situation.[fn]Crisis Group Report, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, op. cit., p. 2. Also see, The New Kings of Crude, op. cit.Hide Footnote Chinese businesses trickled into the South’s capital, Juba, soon after the CPA was signed, and, unbeknownst to Khartoum, the China National Petroleum Corporation surreptitiously dispatched employees to learn more about the new government. It took the Chinese government longer to adjust.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese businessman, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote Salva Kiir, then Sudan’s first vice president and now South Sudan’s president, bluntly reminded Chinese leaders during his 2007 visit to Beijing that most oil fields lie in the South and the CPA guaranteed its right to secede. Beijing opened a consulate in Juba the following year.[fn]Crisis Group Report, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, op. cit., p. 3.Hide Footnote

Keen to tap into an underdeveloped market with, at the time, few competitors, Chinese nationals and companies flocked to South Sudan after it achieved formal independence in July 2011. But the region soon proved volatile and risky for businesses.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese businessman, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote In January 2012, Juba shut down oil production after negotiations over pipeline fees with Khartoum deadlocked. Production did not restart until April 2013.[fn]“Two Sudans’ oil disputes deepens as South shuts down wells”, The Guardian, 26 January 2012; “South Sudan restarts oil production”, Financial Times, 7 April 2013.Hide Footnote Civil war broke out in December that year and disrupted production again. Oil workers had to find shelter in UN bases until companies could airlift them to safety.[fn]Crisis Group Africa Report N°217, South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name, 10 April 2014, pp. 15-17.Hide Footnote Chinese nationals scrambled to flee the war zone; their shops were looted and business projects halted.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese officials, Juba, Beijing, 2016.Hide Footnote Beijing made the unprecedented decision to step in, with three related aims: (1) protect Chinese citizens and economic interests; (2) support an end to the war; and (3) serve humanitarian objectives.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese officials, Juba, 2014-2016.Hide Footnote Although this was an emergency response, it also became a calculated trial run for a more proactive role in step with China’s expanding overseas footprint and international stature.

This report begins with a review of the evolution of China’s non-interference principle. It analyses China’s motivation, objectives and methods for supporting the South Sudan peace process, as well as its interaction with warring parties and mediators. It studies how China – a relatively new, albeit influential arrival to international peace processes – reinforces, complements, or contradicts traditional diplomatic approaches. It also analyses lessons from the South Sudan experience about China’s evolving understanding of its role in the world and its interpretation of non-inter­ference. This report is primarily based on interviews with policymakers, diplomats, company executives and academics in Beijing, Shanghai, Juba, Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Washington. Many requested that their names be withheld.

II. Evolution of Non-interference

China’s proactive approach to South Sudan appears to be a significant departure from its longstanding principle of non-interference.[fn]安惠候,“不干涉原则与’新干涉主义’”, 《外交季刊》 [An Huihou, “Non-Interference Principle and ‘neo-interventionism’”, Foreign Policy Journal], vol. 104 no.4 (2012); 王嵎生, “中国外交的变与不变(上)”, 《解放日报》[Wang Yusheng, “Changes and continuation of Chinese diplomacy (First Half)”, PLA Daily, 29 October 2012]. An Huihou is the former Chinese ambassador to Egypt and Wang Yusheng is the former Chinese ambassador to Nigeria.Hide Footnote In fact, despite official rhetoric suggesting an unchanging doctrine, China’s interpretation of non-interference has evolved in a way that mirrors that of its definition of national interests and objectives.[fn]Proponents of a more flexible approach argue that non-interference must evolve along with China’s growing global footprint and expectations it will protect its nationals and investments overseas. Furthermore, if interpreted strictly, non-interference would compel China to accept outcomes deriving from other international actors’ interventions that are ineffective or not in China’s interests. They also argue that China’s “free riding” on global stability supposedly provided by others is neither sufficient nor sustainable. Crisis Group interviews, Chinese officials in the foreign ministry and State Council, diplomats and scholars, Beijing, Shanghai, Juba, and Addis Ababa, February-March 2014, January-April 2016. Also see, 催洪建, “‘不干涉’ 的安全观该更新了” [Cui Hongjian: “The ‘non-interference’ security concept should be updated”], Global Times, 28 July 2012; 王逸舟, 《创造性介入:中国外交新取向》[Wang Yizhou, Creative Involvement: A New Direction in China’s Diplomacy] (Beijing, 2011). For more on the evolution of the Chinese approach to peacekeeping prior to 2000, see Crisis Group Asia Report N°166, China’s Growing Role in UN Peacekeeping, 17 April 2009, pp. 3-5.Hide Footnote Even as the theoretical debate continues, Beijing has charted a middle path maintaining the broad non-interference principle while stretching its interpretation and experimenting with various ways of applying it.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats and scholars, Beijing, Juba and Addis Ababa, January-April 2016.Hide Footnote

A. China Goes Out

Beginning in the 1990s, China became rapidly integrated into the world economy. In 1996, then-President Jiang Zemin first called for companies to “Go Out” and invest; in 1999, the Communist Party of China (CPC) formally adopted the “Go Out” strategy, supported by state financial institutions.[fn]Financial institutions supporting the “Go-Out” strategy (走出去战略; Pinyin: Zǒuchūqù  Zhànlüè) include China Development Bank (CDB), the Export Import Bank of China (China Exim Bank), policy banks such as Bank of China, and the China-Africa Development Fund. 陈杨勇,江泽民’走出去’战略的形成及其重要意义,人民网 [Chen Yangyong, “The creation and significance of Jiang Zemin’s ‘Go Out’ strategy”], People’s Daily online, 10 November 2008; “China goes global with development banks,” Bretton Woods Project, 5 April 2016; Karl P. Sauvant and Victor Zitian Chen, “China’s Regulatory Framework for Outward Foreign Direct Investment”, Columbia University, 22 February 2014.Hide Footnote Annual overseas direct investment grew from $2.7 billion in 2002 to $170.11 billion in 2016.[fn]The commerce ministry began recording outbound direct investment statistics in 2002. “2010 Statistical Bulletin of China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment”, Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, 16 September 2011. “MOFCOM Department Official of Outward Investment and Economic Cooperation Comments on China’s Outward Investment and Cooperation in 2016”, Chinese commerce ministry, 18 January 2017. By 2015, nearly 30,000 enterprises had invested overseas. “Report on Development of China’s Outward Investment and Economic Cooperation 2015”, Chinese commerce ministry, December 2015.Hide Footnote In Africa, Chinese direct investment grew from $1 billion in 2004 to $24.5 billion in 2013.[fn]Lihuan Zhou and Denise Leung, “China’s Overseas Investments, Explained in 10 Graphics”, World Resources Institute, 28 January 2015.Hide Footnote Although the over-stretched foreign ministry has no exact tally, the number of citizens residing abroad is believed to be about five million and rising, including some one million in Africa.[fn]Jonas Parello-Plesner and Mathieu Duchâtel, “How Chinese Nationals Abroad Are Transforming Beijing’s Foreign Policy”, East Asia Forum (, 16 June 2015.Hide Footnote

Driven by energy needs and backed by the state, national oil companies led the “Go Out” march. Because the most readily accessible oil deposits already had been exploited, Chinese companies often ended up in fragile states, taking on political and security risks to outflank competition from better funded, better equipped, more experienced – but also more cautious – Western oil majors. Mining and construction companies joined in, likewise often operating in underdeveloped and unstable regions.[fn]Crisis Group Asia Report N°153, China’s Thirst for Oil, 9 June 2008.Hide Footnote

Even so, when overseas interests were in jeopardy, “rather than trying to influence outcomes in a crisis overseas, Beijing preferred withdrawal”. [fn]Mathieu Duchâtel, Oliver Bräuner and Zhou Hang, “Protecting China’s Overseas Interests”, Stock­holm International Peace Research Institute, June 2014, p. 47.Hide Footnote From 2006 to 2011, China conducted ten large-scale evacuations of nationals from foreign countries due to riots, wars or natural disasters, typically with minimum military participation.[fn]“近年来中国的重大撤侨行动”, 新华网 [“China’s major operations to evacuate nationals in recent years”], Xinhua News online, 31 March 2015.Hide Footnote The choice to withdraw rather than intervene was dictated by both principle and pragmatism. A former special representative for African affairs said, “Interference has to be backed up with capability. Although China was a big power, its capability to project power was not sufficient”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Liu Guijin, former Chinese special representative for African affairs and on the Darfur issue, Beijing, September 2014.Hide Footnote

B. Darfur: “Cleaning up the Mess”

China’s initially reluctant engagement with the Sudanese government over the Darfur war represented an early and notable departure from non-intervention and toward engagement with multilateral peace and security efforts.

In 2003, Darfur rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. Khartoum and allied militia groups responded with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.[fn]Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°14, Sudan’s Other Wars, 25 June 2003; Crisis Group Africa Reports N°76, Darfur Rising: Sudan’s New Crisis, 25 March 2004; N°80, Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur, 23 May 2004; N°83; Darfur Deadline: A New International Action Plan, 23 August 2004.Hide Footnote Beijing’s close economic and political ties with Khartoum, particularly via the oil industry, led to Western accusations that it was bankrolling and protecting a genocidal regime.[fn]China invested billions of dollars in Sudan’s oil industry and imported 60 per cent of Sudan’s crude oil before 2011. China became Khartoum’s largest arms supplier around 2004 and helped Sudan build its domestic arms manufacturing industry. It was responsible for more than 70 per cent of total small arms and light weapons (SALM) transfers to Sudan between 2001 and 2008. Beijing also was seen as Khartoum’s protector in the UN Security Council. Crisis Group Report, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, op. cit., p. 20; “Arms, Oil, and Darfur: The Evolution of Relations between China and Sudan”, Small Arms Survey, Sudan Issue Brief, Number 7, July 2007; “Supply and Demand: Arms Flow and Holdings in Sudan”, Small Arms Survey, Sudan Issue Brief, Number 15, December 2009.Hide Footnote Activists called for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China’s purported coming-of-age show. Denying any responsibility for the Darfur war, yet fearing a public relations crisis, Beijing sought to “clean up the mess”.[fn]The foreign ministry argued the Darfur issue dated back to 1916, when it was under British control, and said: “It would be too far-fetched to blame China”. “外交部部长助理翟隽就苏丹达尔富尔问题举行中外媒体吹风会 [“Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun Briefs Chinese and Foreign Media on the Darfur Issue in Sudan”], press release, Chinese foreign ministry, 12 April 2007. Crisis Group interview, Chinese scholar on Africa studies, Shanghai, March 2016.Hide Footnote In May 2007, it appointed Liu Guijin, a seasoned diplomat, as its special representative for African affairs and the Darfur issue.[fn]“China appoints Darfur post”, Associated Press, 10 May 2007.Hide Footnote

In 2007, through public statements and private messaging, Beijing persuaded Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to accept UN peacekeepers, hinting that Khartoum’s obstinacy could cost it China’s support at the UN.[fn]This was not an empty threat: abstentions by China and the U.S. on a 2005 UN Security Council vote to refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court allowed it to pass. Crisis Group Africa Briefings N°28, The AU's Mission in Darfur: Bridging the Gaps, 6 July 2005; N°43, Getting the UN into Darfur, 12 October 2006; Crisis Group Africa Reports N°105, To Save Darfur, 17 March 2006; N°134, Darfur’s New Security Reality, 26 November 2007; N°152, Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC, 17 July 2009; Crisis Group Report, China’s Growing Role in UN Peacekeeping, op. cit.Hide Footnote Chinese diplomats helped broker agreement for an African Union/UN hybrid mission with peacekeepers from developing nations to allay Bashir’s fear that Western forces would be used in the service of regime change.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Liu Guijin, former Chinese special representative for African affairs and on the Darfur issue, Beijing, March 2016. Former U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios said China’s influence was a “critical factor” leading to Sudan relenting. Andrew Natsios, “Statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee”, 11 April 2007.Hide Footnote After the International Criminal Court (ICC) ordered Bashir’s arrest in March 2009, the envoy assured him: “China did not support ICC’s decision” but also advised him not to expel humanitarians or condone violent attacks against Westerners.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Liu Guijin, former Chinese special representative for African affairs and on the Darfur issue, Beijing, March 2016.Hide Footnote

During the 2005 CPA’s implementation, Beijing also supported negotiations over the division of oil revenues between Khartoum and the Southern Sudan regional government.[fn]While most oil is in the south, it is exported via a pipeline through Sudan. For detailed analysis of China’s role in the oil negotiations, see Crisis Group Report, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, op. cit., pp. 26-31.Hide Footnote China acted as an influential party at the table, even as it shied away from full-fledged mediation.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Liu Guijin, former Chinese special representative for African affairs and on the Darfur issue, Beijing, March 2016.Hide Footnote In the process, Beijing accumulated experience, gained regional and international players’ trust and built up capability and confidence in mediation, paving the way for its later engagement in South Sudan.

C. Libya: Catalyst for Change

In February 2011, conflict in Libya led to a massive operation to evacuate Chinese nationals working in construction and other sectors. The ten-day evacuation was the largest in Chinese history: 35,860 nationals. For transport and escort, the People’s Liberation Army and Navy (PLA/N) dispatched aircraft and frigates that sailed through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean for the first time. A dozen government agencies, nine embassies, commercial airlines and state-owned enterprises participated in the operation; multiple countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa facilitated the transit.[fn]马利(主编),《国家行动 -利比亚的撤离》 [Ma Li (ed.), National Operation – the great eva­cu­ation from Libya] (Beijing, 2011), pp. 199-201. “外交部:中国撤离在利比亚公民行动实现 ‘四个第一’”, 新华网 [“Foreign Ministry: China’s evacuation of nationals in Libya realises ‘four firsts’”], Xinhua News online, 6 March 2011.Hide Footnote

State media hailed the evacuation as “an unprecedented” display of military might, diplomatic leverage, financial prowess and mobilising skills.[fn]“特写: ‘回家的感觉太好了!’ – 中国撤离在利比亚人员行动圆满结束”, 新华社 [“Special report: ‘It feels too good to be home!’ – Chinese operation to evacuate nationals from Libya ends in perfect success”], Xinhua News, 6 March 2011. 王逸舟, 《创造性介入:中国外交新取向》[Wang Yizhou, Creative Involvement: A New Direction in China’s Diplomacy] (Beijing, 2011), p. 75.Hide Footnote The impressive operation inspired national pride but also raised expectations that China would protect its citizens elsewhere. Later, this would be cited as a factor justifying intervention in South Sudan.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, Beijing, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote

The Libya evacuation also exposed the limits of China’s ability to protect its investments. Although its citizens were brought home safely,[fn]Crisis Group Report, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, op. cit., p. 9.Hide Footnote Chinese infrastructure projects worth over $18.8 billion were damaged by fighting, NATO airstrikes, looting and vandalism.[fn]马宁, “利比亚动荡 中国企业利益损失几何?”, 新华网, [Ma Ning, “Libya Turmoil: How much did Chinese companies lose?”], Xinhua News, 25 March 2011; “陈德铭:中国在利比亚项目损失严重”, 凤凰网, [“Chen Deming: China’s projects in Libya suffer severe loss”], Ifeng, 7 March 2012.Hide Footnote Oil imports from Libya to China fell from 150,000 barrels per day in 2010 to just 19,000 by 2014.[fn]“China”, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 14 May 2015, p. 10. “Libya is a major energy exporter, especially to Europe”, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 21 March 2011.Hide Footnote Beijing, like many other countries, was convinced that NATO’s Libya campaign exceeded the UN Security Council’s authorisation (which passed with China’s abstention) and resulted in regime change “without any legal or institutional proceedings”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Chinese foreign ministry official, Beijing, February 2014. In May 2011, then-Chinese Ambassador to the UN Li Baodong twice stated China’s opposition to the NATO campaign, saying it was based on an “arbitrary interpretation” of UN resolutions. United Nations Security Council 6528th meeting, UN Document S/PV.6528, 4 May 2011. United Nations Security Council 6531st meeting, UN Document S/PV.6531, 10 May 2011. Chinese scholars spoke of a sense of “deception and betrayal” by the West, and blamed Western military intervention for the ensuing chaos in Libya. Zheng Chen, “China and the responsibility to protect”, Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 25, no. 101 (2016), p. 693. Ruan Zongze, “Responsible Protection: Building a Safer World”, China International Studies, vol. 34 (May/June 2012).Hide Footnote

Libya focused the attention of Chinese foreign policy decision-makers and thinkers and sharpened the debate on the contours of non-interference. Many began to argue that China needed to engage actively in global security affairs to prevent such chaos from arising in the first place and to shape outcomes.

III. South Sudan: The Pilot Project

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 with fighting and ethnically-targeted killings in the capital, Juba.[fn]Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name, op. cit.Hide Footnote Violence soon spread across the country. Rebels with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) targeted and destroyed some oil infrastructure and killed South Sudanese workers on Chinese-owned oil facilities. Chinese workers were evacuated in emergency conditions.[fn]“97 Chinese workers evacuated from South Sudan to Khartoum”, Xinhua, 25 December 2013.Hide Footnote The Horn of Africa regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), immediately launched mediation efforts between the government and the rebels in an attempt to stop the war and prevent neighbouring states from being pulled into a regional conflict. Both China and Western states backed these efforts. IGAD’s chief mediator, Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister and ambassador to China, provided Beijing a known and credible entry into the mediation. China’s interests in South Sudan and strong relations with the regional mediators made South Sudan an ideal testing ground for Beijing’s increasingly nuanced approach to non-interference.

A. Chinese Interests on the Ground

Although South Sudan accounts for only 2 to 5 per cent of China’s annual oil imports, oil is front and centre among Beijing’s concerns.[fn]“China”, U.S. Energy Information Administration, updated 14 May 2015.Hide Footnote While the volume may appear small, its political and geopolitical significance is not.

Sudan was the Chinese oil industry’s first overseas success and retains symbolic importance. It was there that China’s oil corporation and its subsidiaries cut their teeth on international operations, proved their mettle and gained operational experience.[fn]The New Kings of Crude, op. cit., p. 111.Hide Footnote The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) also demonstrated its ability to enhance China’s energy security, winning Beijing’s support for further expansion. As oil prices soared between 1998 and 2003, output from Sudan “contributed significantly to the company’s growth”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CNCP official, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote The Khartoum refinery became a frequent stop for visiting Chinese government and party officials.[fn]The New Kings of Crude, op. cit., pp. 101-102.Hide Footnote

After the 2005 peace agreement, when it appeared likely South Sudan would gain independence, CNPC deepened its engagement with Juba – at first secretly, for fear of offending Khartoum.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese businessman with first-hand knowledge, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote But CNPC and its partners found building relations with South Sudan challenging. Juba drove a hard bargain when it came to restructuring contracts and the volatile political environment undercut production.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, officials in the petroleum ministry, businesspeople, Juba, 2013-2016.Hide Footnote As noted, the government shut down operations in January 2012 over deadlocked talks with Sudan on oil transit fees.[fn]Crisis Group Report, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, op. cit., pp. 20-31.Hide Footnote Boom-time was over and the immediate loss of almost all government revenue was partially covered through loans taken against future oil production whose cost continues to be paid.[fn]Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name, op. cit.Hide Footnote South Sudan’s economic downturn had begun.

Although oil flow resumed in April 2013, the civil war that broke out in December shut down production in three fields in Unity state (the larger Upper Nile state fields remained operational).[fn]Both are near the border with Sudan and near areas where fighting has taken place. “South Sudan restarts oil production”, Financial Times, 7 April 2013. Crisis Group interview, CNPC managers, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote The global decline in oil prices in 2014, combined with the war, presented a dual challenge for the oil companies. In January and February 2016, when benchmark crude oil prices dipped to lows below $30 per barrel, CNPC lost nearly $2 million a day, although it still is banking on South Sudan stabilising and oil prices have since increased.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CNPC managers and Chinese diplomats, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Although CNPC officials routinely downplay the company’s influence on Beijing’s decision-making, executives of national oil majors are prominent members of the elite decision-making class. The Communist Party’s Central Organisation Department appoints these top executives, who typically hold vice ministerial rank. It is not uncommon for oil company executives to ascend to prominent political positions.[fn]Crisis Group Asia Report N°275, Stirring up the South China Sea (IV): Oil in Troubled Waters, 26 January 2016, p. 5. Zhou Yongkang, CNPC general manager 1996 to 1998, played a crucial role in CNPC’s venturing into Sudan. He became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007 and security czar. In retirement, he was arrested on corruption charges in 2015. “Profile: China’s fallen security chief Zhou Yongkang”, BBC, 11 June 2015.Hide Footnote Although CNPC is primarily a profit-seeking corporation, it can be called upon by the party to fulfil policy or political goals such as employment and diplomacy. Diplomats said CNPC was asked to absorb the loss and stay put in South Sudan. The company in turn sought and expected protection from the Chinese state.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Beijing, March 2016; Addis Ababa, April 2016; Chinese scholar, Shanghai, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Operational costs, with cheap rent and labour, were low and profit margins were as high as 50 per cent before the current economic crisis.

Oil companies were not alone in investing in South Sudan. Other companies followed suit, accompanied by Chinese loans.[fn]In January 2012, Kiir received Li Yuanchao, member of the Politburo, in Juba. The two sides discussed additional loans potentially guaranteed against future oil reserves. Crisis Group Report, China’s New Courtship in South Sudan, op. cit., pp. 10-11.Hide Footnote Bilateral trade reached $534 million in 2012; by 2013, roughly 100 Chinese companies were registered in South Sudan, covering energy, engineering, construction, telecommunications, medical services, hotels, restaurants, and retail.[fn]“中国和南苏丹合作简介”[“Brief introduction to China-South Sudan Cooperation”], official website of the Economic and Commercial Counsellor’s Office of the Chinese Embassy in South Sudan, updated 8 December 2013.Hide Footnote Some saw South Sudan as a “paradise for investors”: a country rich in oil income, with huge infrastructure needs, nearly no industry and no Western competition.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, 8 March 2016. Zhong retired from the position in August 2016.Hide Footnote Operational costs, with cheap rent and labour, were low and profit margins were as high as 50 per cent before the current economic crisis.[fn]Crisis interviews, Chinese businessmen, Juba, April 2016; correspondence, Chinese businessmen, July 2016.Hide Footnote

Yet risks also are plentiful. Beyond war and political instability, robberies, kidnapping and petty crime threaten property and personal safety. Both government and rebel groups have sought to protect Chinese businesspeople and infrastructure, expecting (and sometimes receiving) financial benefits in exchange.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, South Sudanese government officials and rebel leaders, Juba, Addis Ababa, 2014-2015.Hide Footnote But the government, which has been running a deficit and mortgaging future oil revenue since 2012, is chronically delinquent on contractual and loan payments. Investors are therefore increasingly hesitant to make substantial investments.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese businessmen in construction, telecommunications, and hospitality, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote

B. A Pilot Project for Diplomacy

When civil war broke out in December 2013, CNPC evacuated many employees on company airplanes. Other Chinese citizens fled via self-organised caravans. Although not specifically targeted, Chinese retail shops and restaurants were looted or burned down in the fighting.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CNPC managers and other Chinese businessmen, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Chinese officials debated whether to leave or stay with lessons from Libya fresh in their minds. Another withdrawal would mean leaving oil fields and other investments behind, likely to be damaged by war; it also would mean forfeiting economic and political leverage to influence events.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats and scholars with state-affiliated think-tanks, Beijing, January-March 2016.Hide Footnote Diplomats said Beijing was also driven by “a sense of responsibility” to preserve South Sudan’s economic future, which lives or dies with the oil industry.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, 8 March 2016.Hide Footnote Zhong Jianhua, who replaced Liu as special representative on African affairs in 2012, arrived in Nairobi as IGAD launched its mediation process. In response to IGAD’s request for China’s engagement, Beijing stepped up its involvement. Between 2014 and the signing of a peace agreement in August 2015, China was consistently engaged and supportive of the mediation process.

For Beijing, South Sudan became a real-world laboratory to test the boundaries of its non-interference principle. It did so in what, domestically, was a relatively less contentious arena: unlike conflicts and disputes in Asia, Africa seldom falls under Beijing’s domestic media spotlight or becomes the subject of nationalist passion. A Chinese scholar on African affairs said:

China can afford to stomach the cost of trial-and-error of new approaches in Africa. China hopes to form “Chinese solutions”. In comparison, Myanmar and the South China Sea are much more sensitive and mistakes there are much more costly to China.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese scholar on African affairs at a government-affiliated think-tank, Beijing, January 2016.Hide Footnote

As a result, the foreign ministry’s Africa Department has more room to manoeuvre, undertake policy initiatives and delegate authority and influence to the field.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese foreign ministry official, Beijing, March 2014.Hide Footnote Diplomats in Juba and Addis Ababa were ready to engage with the South Sudan mediation, which one diplomat described as “a pilot project for Chinese diplomacy”. It was expected that this experience would shape the debate in Beijing about non-interference and thus contribute to formulating “Chinese solutions”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote

IV. China in Action

The government sees itself as a newcomer to conflict resolution, and is viewed as such by partners. Though vaguely defined and still evolving, an outline of what “Chinese solutions” might look like is beginning to emerge from its engagement with South Sudan.

A. Chinese Solutions

1. Setting the table, not forcing outcomes

China appears most comfortable in the role of a table-setter, leveraging its political and economic influence to bring parties together. Its flexibility in providing aid has helped ensure the quick release of small in-kind donations covering transportation and accommodation for participants in negotiations.[fn]“During mediation between Darfur and Sudanese government for example, Chinese funding support always came in handy. It allowed people to travel and convene,” said a UN official involved in the process. Crisis Group interview, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote But Beijing, is only slowly becoming comfortable with directly setting agendas, proposing terms in agreements or drafting documents – and even then tends to do so behind the scenes.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Beijing displayed such table-setting to good effect in January 2015 when Sudan-South Sudan relations were strained over support for one another’s rebels.[fn]Tensions between the two Sudans escalated in December 2014 as Sudan’s defence minister, Abdel Rahim Hussein, and intelligence chief, Mohamed Atta, claimed that Juba had continued to harbour and support Sudanese rebel groups. Atta warned South Sudan that any incursion by rebel forces from its territory would be treated as an “assault”, and threatened to pursue rebels inside South Sudanese territory. In response, SPLA spokesperson Philip Aguer said Khartoum’s comments amounted to a declaration of war. “Khartoum again warns Juba against supporting Sudan’s JEM rebels”, Sudan Tribune, 17 December 2014. “Sudan warns South Sudan against ‘hostile moves’ by rebels in its territory”, Reuters, 17 December 2014.Hide Footnote Leveraging its longstanding ties with the Sudanese government, Beijing sent Foreign Minister Wang Yi to convene a “special consultation meeting” in Khartoum that included South Sudan’s warring parties, Ethiopia, Sudan and IGAD.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, Beijing, March 2016, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs said:

We hoped to help elevate Sudan’s international status. Choosing Khartoum gave the Sudanese government considerable recognition and encouragement. We acknowledged Sudan’s role in addressing the conflict and believed that it should play an important role. Sudan very much welcomed the decision and felt that we paid enough respect by making it the host.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, 8 March 2016.Hide Footnote

The meeting did not produce concrete resolutions, but Beijing secured renewed commitments to oil infrastructure security, melding its economic interests with those of Sudan and South Sudan. It “put Sudan and South Sudan on notice … China sent a message to the Sudanese government that supporting conflict in South Sudan would go against Chinese interests. Western countries were not in a position to do so”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior U.S. official, Washington, May 2016.Hide Footnote The event also “made IGAD refocus its attention and added new momentum to the peace process”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote Chinese influence encouraged Khartoum to exercise restraint in South Sudan, which also helped set the Sudanese government up in 2016 for its negotiations over sanctions relief from Washington, which was counselling the same approach.

Beijing considered this a “ground-breaking” initiative. “It was the first time that we called upon leaders of countries in the region to discuss conflict resolution in another country”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, 8 March 2016.Hide Footnote Western and African partners increasingly have urged Beijing to take on more responsibility, given its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and leverage over parties concerned.[fn]“South Sudan’s famine is China’s chance to lead”, Bloomberg, editorial, 27 February 2017.Hide Footnote According to one UN official: “It can punch way more weight … China can put its foot down on deadlines. It can be tougher. It can insist on implementation”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote

2. Chinese interests as global interests

China was as surprised as the rest of the world when the civil war began, and scrambled to secure its oil infrastructure in the volatile Greater Upper Nile region. Some installations were destroyed in the first weeks of the war and opposition forces threatened to attack and destroy others.[fn]The war started in Juba and quickly spread throughout Greater Upper Nile. Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name, op. cit.Hide Footnote

China hedged between the government and SPLM/A-IO (the rebel grouping negotiating with the government), providing financial and other support to both parties conditioned upon their guaranteeing the security of oil infrastructure or, in the case of the rebels, not attacking it. Beijing may have overestimated the SPLM/A-IO’s capabilities after the first few months of war; it was in the rebels’ interests to overstate their ability to threaten the fields, a case they continue to make.[fn]Attacking the oil fields again would have put them at odds with Khartoum, which was their primary source of arms. Crisis Group interview, SPLM-IO member, December 2016.Hide Footnote

China, alongside most of the international community, also overestimated SPLM/A-IO leader Riek Machar’s command and control over the forces operating in his name. When Johnson Olony, a rebel turned government general in 2013, defected (again) to the opposition in 2015, his first act was to march on the oil fields – flouting Machar’s agreement with the Chinese.[fn]Crisis Group Africa Report N°228, South Sudan: Keeping Faith with the IGAD Peace Process, 27 July 2015, p. 14.Hide Footnote His forces briefly captured Melut town and were poised to launch an offensive on the well-defended Palioch oil fields nearby. Chinese and Western diplomats rushed to avoid an oil shutdown amid calls to pull out foreign workers.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, U.S. officials, Washington, May 2015.Hide Footnote In the end, Olony’s forces were turned back by South Sudanese government forces. But the incident demonstrated the limits of China’s arrangement with Machar.

The wider international community supported China’s efforts to protect oil infrastructure; few could envision war-ravaged South Sudan rebuilding without oil revenue.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Western and regional diplomats, Addis Ababa, 2014-2015.Hide Footnote However, China was the only actor prepared to provide direct help to keep the oil flowing. Quiet understandings with both the government and rebels offered China the prospect of benefits beyond wartime security – good relations with Juba and, on the ground, with the leadership of oil-producing states that former rebels would have governed had the peace agreement been fully implemented.[fn]Crisis Group Report, South Sudan: Rearranging the Chessboard, op. cit. The 2015 IGAD peace agreement provided that the two major oil-producing states of South Sudan were to be governed by Machar’s rebels. “Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan”, IGAD, 17 August 2015, pp. 17-18.Hide Footnote

3. African solutions to African problems

China has called for “African solutions to African problems”, an approach that gives Beijing’s policy considerable room to evolve.[fn]Premier Li Keqiang debuted China’s commitment to the concept in May 2014. “第十五届’蓝厅论坛’在外交部举行, 外交部长王毅发表主旨演讲” [“The 15th ‘Lanting Forum’ takes place in the foreign ministry; foreign minister Wang Yi delivers keynote speech”], press release, Chinese foreign ministry, 26 November 2015; Crisis Group interviews, Beijing, Juba and Addis Ababa, January-April 2016.Hide Footnote In South Sudan, it insists on IGAD’s lead role and is reluctant to reach for the reins even when the process falters. “We have to let local people decide their own fate, even though they might end up with nothing”, said a senior diplomat.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Beijing, March 2016.Hide Footnote It also can be swayed by African endorsements. In May 2011, following fighting in Abyei, a region disputed between Sudan and South Sudan, an African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council communiqué helped put an end to Beijing’s resistance to the idea of intervention by external actors. China subsequently voted at the Security Council in June to authorise peacekeepers for Abyei.[fn]As one diplomat said: “When China and Russia saw it was African text, they were okay”. Crisis Group interview, EU diplomat, Addis Ababa, April 2016; “Communiqué: The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU), at its 280th meeting held on 20 May 2011, in Addis Ababa, considered the implementation status of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan”, PSC/PR/BR (CCLXXX), 20 May 2011; “Communiqué of the Consultative Meeting between Member of the Council of the United Nations and the Peace and Security Council of the African Union”, United Nations, 21 May 2011. “Resolution 1990 (2011)”, S/RES/1990 (2011), 27 June 2011.Hide Footnote

Western diplomats found that the most effective way to win China’s (and Russia’s) approval of – or acquiescence to – Africa-related UN Security Council resolutions is to obtain backing from the body’s African members.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote When African council members are divided, for instance over whether to support an arms embargo for South Sudan, China has urged the bloc to find a common position it can support.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Juba, June 2016.Hide Footnote

That said, there are signs China’s approach is evolving. As it becomes more familiar with, and invested in, international peace and security mechanisms, it has begun to try to shape regional positions behind the scenes rather than passively follow them. This has been most notable with respect to Sudan and South Sudan.

4. Persuasion not punishment

China typically resists sanctions, shuns open criticism and prefers behind-the-scene persuasion. Itself once a target of sanctions, Beijing retains an ideological aversion to them, seeing them as instruments of Western coercion.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese scholar, Beijing, 26 January 2016.Hide Footnote It also argues sanctions rarely achieve the intended effect and often backfire.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, 21 April 2016.Hide Footnote In practice, however, China has often adopted a more nuanced approach.

When sanctions are discussed, China occasionally mediates between the government and Western powers. “The Troika often raised the threat of sanctions”, a Chinese diplomat recounted, “China would play the role of ‘good cop’ to ease tensions”, urging patience from Western partners while counselling the targeted party to make concessions.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, April 2016. The U.S., UK and Norway, have operated as one unit when mediating conflicts in and between the two Sudans, coordinating policymaking and speaking with one voice. The term “Troika” first surfaced in early 2001 as the three countries began to pursue concerted efforts in the Sudan peace process.Hide Footnote Functioning as messenger rather than enforcer allows Beijing to leverage its political influence without risking it.[fn]Other governments – including Ethiopia, Japan and Uganda, among others – have played this role with the South Sudanese government in recent years. Crisis Group interviews, Juba, Addis Ababa, 2014-2016.Hide Footnote China has used this approach on several occasions in recent years, including in efforts to secure the release of some of the thirteen senior SPLM members Kiir arrested and accused of plotting a coup in 2013.[fn]“S. Sudan releases two political detainees, calls for ceasefire”, Sudan Tribune, 27 December 2013; “Communiqué of the 23rd extra-ordinary session of the IGAD assembly of heads of state and government on the situation in South Sudan”, communiqué, IGAD, Nairobi, 27 December 2013; “Direct talks on South Sudan open in Ethiopia”, BBC, 5 January 2014; “South Sudan rejects call to free detainees as troops defect”, Bloomberg, 6 January 2014.Hide Footnote

On 3 April 2014, with four still in custody (and as war and atrocities continued) the U.S. announced a sanctions regime on South Sudan.[fn]“Executive Order – Blocking Property of Certain Persons With Respect to South Sudan”, the White House, 3 April 2014.Hide Footnote Chinese diplomats subsequently met with senior South Sudanese officials, including Kiir, advising flexibility and pragmatism rather than “taking the West head-on”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, April 2016.Hide Footnote Juba announced the remaining detainees’ release on 25 April “to promote peace and reconciliation”.[fn]“South Sudan frees alleged rebel leaders”, Al Jazeera, 25 April 2014.Hide Footnote Although the U.S. imposed individual sanctions the following month due to alleged involvement in atrocities and for undermining peace negotiations, they targeted lower ranking individuals than initially envisaged.[fn]“John Kerry visits South Sudan, warns gov’t and rebels to avert ‘genocide’”, Associated Press, 2 May 2014; “U.S. sanctions both sides of South Sudan conflict”, Reuters, 6 May 2014. The U.S. had threatened to sanction top leaders on both sides but instead sanctioned two operational generals. The number later rose to six, the most senior sector commander.Hide Footnote

China’s somewhat ambivalent relationship to sanctions is evidenced by its record at the Security Council. On 3 March, China voted in favour of a U.S.-sponsored resolution laying the groundwork for targeted sanctions in advance of a 5 March peace process deadline.[fn]UNSC S/2015/2206, 3 March 2015.Hide Footnote Initially, China objected, due to ongoing negotiations, but it ultimately voted in favour, to “send a unified message”.[fn]“中国反对通过联合国南苏丹制裁决议” [“China opposes passing UN resolution imposing sanction on South Sudan”], BBC, 27 February 2015; “UN sets up sanctions regime for S. Sudan”, VOA News, 3 March 2015. The resolution also established a UN Panel of Experts to provide regular reporting to the Security Council on South Sudan.Hide Footnote Subsequently activists called for sanctioning both Kiir and Machar. In talks with the U.S., Beijing agreed not to block Washington’s efforts to sanction moderately high-ranking commanders in July 2015 in return for taking more senior officials off the sanctions list.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Addis Ababa, 22 April 2016.Hide Footnote This allowed Beijing to both stand with the international community and mollify Juba. Before the vote, South Sudan’s Vice President James Wani relayed Kiir’s “high regards and sincere gratitude” for Beijing’s “objective stance” to the Chinese ambassador.[fn]“南苏丹副总统瓦尼紧急约见马强大使” [“South Sudanese Vice President Wani requests emergency meeting with Ambassador Ma Qiang”], Chinese embassy in Juba, 3 March 2015.Hide Footnote

The flexibility also reflects back-and-forth between the capital, more concerned about principles, and the field, more preoccupied with influencing developments on the ground. With intimate knowledge of the conflict, peace process and parties involved and influenced by daily interactions with other international players, frontline diplomats may see the utility of sanctions. “Sometimes in order to have the process moving, you need to show teeth. Ultimately you need some leverage”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote While never quite identical, the diplomats’ views also began to converge with those of counterparts in Beijing in seeing sanctions, or their threat, “as leverage to influence future behaviour instead of punishment for past behaviour”.[fn]The first round of U.S. and UN sanctions were for past human rights abuses and ceasefire violations, and not designed to shape future behaviour. Crisis Group interview, senior U.S. official, Washington, May 2016.Hide Footnote

5. Development-focused governance vs. liberal democratic governance

Beijing generally sees underdevelopment as the root cause of instability and believes its governance model better suited to cure this than Western democracy.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, Juba and Addis Ababa, April 2016. Liu Guijin, speech, “Protecting Interests and Nationals in Africa: Chinese and European Approaches and Experiences”, CICIR-SIPRI, Beijing, 12 September 2014. Also see, “Peacekeeping, Mediation, Assistance, Escort, Development – Wang Yi Talks about Five Keywords of China’s Assistance to Peace and Security in Africa”, Chinese foreign ministry, 11 August 2016.Hide Footnote As one diplomat said: “People don’t have enough to eat. Most are illiterate. Does Western democracy really work [in South Sudan]?”[fn]Crisis Group interview, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote Some Chinese analysts believe the West places “too much emphasis” on “procedural legitimacy” at the cost of stability, which they argue requires a strong regime, especially in nation-building’s early stage.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese analysts of African affairs at a state-affiliated think-tank, Beijing, January 2016.Hide Footnote

China believes its own post-Mao model of governance and development – a hybrid of planned and market economy under one-party rule – fits the Horn of Africa and is more appealing than Western democracy.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Chinese diplomat, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote As one scholar put it, African nations (or at least their leaders) are attracted to the Communist Party’s ability to make decisions, mobilise resources and speedily launch ambitious endeavours thanks to its concentration of power and absence of effective dissent.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese scholar on Africa Studies, Beijing, January 2016. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front is among the most enthusiastic African adherents to aspects of the Chinese model. Others include ruling parties in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Yun Sun, “Political Party Training: China’s Ideological Push in Africa?”, Africa in Focus, Brookings Institute, 5 July 2016.Hide Footnote

Rather than pushing its model, Beijing soft-sells it. An official said: “We don’t have slogans like the West does. We only share experiences”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Liu Guijin, former special representative for African affairs and on the Darfur issue, Beijing, March 2016.Hide Footnote Between 2010 and 2013, the Communist Party organised workshops for senior SPLM cadres in Juba and Beijing on topics including poverty alleviation, social and economic development, public opinion guidance and party-building.[fn]Zeng Aiping, “China-Africa Governance Exchanges and Experiences”, Chinese Institute of International Studies (, 3 December 2015.Hide Footnote The embassy also “explained China’s governance principle and practice” to South Sudanese officials.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote

B. China’s Assets

Chinese diplomats and African officials also say Beijing has gained the trust of parties because it is seen as the most neutral among mediators.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Beijing, Juba, Addis Ababa, January-April 2016.Hide Footnote Its interests are clear and, rather than pushing particular paths, it is more focused on the end state of peace and economic stability. Beijing assiduously avoids the appearance of taking sides, shuns public denunciation and is reluctant to resort to pressure or punishment. As its primary concern appears to be protecting its commercial interests, maintaining amicable relations with all sides constitutes a hedge against risks: “keeping a low profile” helps ensure it “makes no enemies”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats and scholars, Beijing, January-March 2016.Hide Footnote Moreover, loans and assistance typically come with no strings attached, which governments see as welcome alternatives to Western donations that are tied to human rights conditions or governance standards.

There are historical affinities as well. China shares with many African countries “painful memories” of humiliation and oppression by Western powers,[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, 8 March 2016.Hide Footnote a similarity that both helps guide Beijing’s approach and appeals to its African counterparts. All in all, this combination of factors provides Chinese diplomats with access to important players, access often appreciated by its Western partners, who are frustrated and concerned about their own lack of leverage.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Beijing, Juba and Addis Ababa, January-April 2016.Hide Footnote

Even as it deepened ties with Juba, Beijing maintained close relations with Khartoum. Its access to both sides was valuable to the IGAD mediation.

South Sudan is a case in point. Initially, its leaders viewed Beijing with suspicion and resentment due to its support for Khartoum. However, after the 2005 peace agreement, pragmatism drove both Beijing and Juba to establish and solidify political, economic and party ties. Kiir visited Beijing in 2005 and 2007. Even as it deepened ties with Juba, Beijing maintained close relations with Khartoum. Its access to both sides was valuable to the IGAD mediation.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, Washington, May 2016.Hide Footnote

1. Economic leverage

Oil accounts for almost all South Sudan’s exports.[fn]At independence, oil accounted for 98 per cent of government revenue. “South Sudan – Over­view”, World Bank, updated 9 April 2016.Hide Footnote The consortium led by China’s oil corporation accounts for most of the investment in its oil industry; its withdrawal would render it impossible to maintain production levels and could prompt a collapse of the formal economy. Therefore, Beijing’s message to Juba was relatively clear-cut, “if you want us to stay, you have to keep us safe …. In the short run, you must ask the troops to safeguard our oil fields. In the long run, you have to stop fighting and implement the ceasefire”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Beijing delivered a similar message to the opposition, and secured an unwritten promise that it would not attack the oil fields.[fn]The promise was cemented through ongoing engagement with senior rebel leaders and financial inducements. Crisis Group interviews, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, March 2016; SPLM/A-IO officials, Addis Ababa, 2014-2015; Nairobi, 2016.Hide Footnote China’s National Petroleum Corporation “at the Chinese government’s behest” continued production and, at some points, paid Juba higher-than-market prices, even when running a loss.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, Juba and Addis Ababa, April 2016. China was granting such terms in hopes of renewing its contracts and winning future concessions.Hide Footnote

In the same spirit, Beijing leveraged its loan policy. Before the civil war, the Ex-Im Bank had pledged loans and credit for at least three projects; it subsequently held off from disbursing the money because of the conflict and related economic challenges.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese businessman, Juba, 12 April 2016; Peter Bashir Gbandi, South Sudanese acting foreign minister, Juba, 13 April 2016. See also, “进出口银行与南苏丹签署融资合作文件” [“Ex-Im bank and South Sudan sign financing cooperation document”], China Ex-Im Bank, 28 July 2014; “Republic of South Sudan Staff Report for 2014 Article IV: Debt Sustainability Analysis”, International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2 December 2014; “Even China has second thoughts on South Sudan after violence”, Los Angeles Times, 20 February 2014.Hide Footnote Other loans and investments also are on hold. China insists that: “Without peace, our money would go down the drain”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, 8 March 2016.Hide Footnote

Ultimately, Beijing’s economic clout translates into political influence, and both Juba and the opposition have learned to respect China’s interests and messaging.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese, Western and African diplomats, Juba and Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote This extends to Khartoum, according to one UN official: “Whatever China said was listened to very carefully [by] both Sudan and South Sudan”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote

2. Humanitarian assistance

Beijing has skilfully tailored the timing and manner of delivery of modest donations to produce maximum impact. Since the outbreak of civil war, China has provided at least $49 million in humanitarian assistance, with $10 million going to the World Food Programme (WFP), other in-kind aid and occasionally as emergency cash.[fn]For a breakdown of major pledges totalling $21 million between December 2013 and July 2014, see Zhou Hang, “China’s emergency relief to South Sudan”, The Diplomat (, 26 October 2014. Additionally, China has pledged or delivered humanitarian assistance of at least $29 million and 8,750 tons of food since then. “China pledges 10 mln USD aid to South Sudan”, Xinhua, 24 August 2016; “China to provide S. Sudan with financial, food aid amid famine; envoy”, Xinhua, 26 April 2017; “China contributes US$5 million to WFP’s emergency operation in South Sudan”, press release, World Food Programme, 6 June 2017.Hide Footnote

While comparatively small,[fn]By comparison, the U.S. – the single largest contributor – has pledged $2.4 billion in humanitarian assistance since late 2013 for aid to South Sudanese in-country and in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. “South Sudan – Crisis: Fact Sheet #8 Fiscal Year (2017)”, United States Agency for International Development 25 May 2017.Hide Footnote assistance tends to be free from restrictive regulations, conditionality, or domestic media scrutiny, affording Beijing flexibility and manoeuvring room that OECD Development Assistance Committee member states typically lack; by the same token, China can be more responsive to Juba’s requests. For example, China provided food, shelter and water for the temporary SPLA-IO military assembly areas used when its members returned to Juba to form the transitional government. It worked in coordination with Western countries that could not provide such assistance to a military encampment but could transport soldiers to Juba.[fn]This was permissible in-line with the Troika’s approved mandate to spend funds in support of implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement.Hide Footnote “The embassy drew a list of things needed worth about $1 million. We built prefabricated houses, provided generators, mosquito nets … [which were] in place just in time for the return of the 1,300 soldiers”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Juba has been more likely to listen to China – which has turned a blind eye to human rights violations – than to Western countries, whose relationships with the government dramatically deteriorated in recent years. This appears to have been the case with regards to ensuring continued humanitarian access; access to rebel-held areas. The Chinese ambassador secured Juba’s consent for China to support UN WFP operations and its agreement to the WFP’s sensitive cross-line food deliveries to rebel-held areas. A Chinese diplomat said:

I went to talk with the foreign minister and the minister of humanitarian affairs. I told them that China was going to give the government $8 million in humanitarian assistance. I also said we can’t neglect people in the three northern states and that China wanted to provide them $5 million of food assistance.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, April 2016.Hide Footnote

C. China’s Limitations

1. Experience and capability

Compared with its Western counterparts, the Chinese foreign ministry is only in the early stages of building institutional infrastructure, acquiring expertise and establishing its authority on matters related to conflict resolution. “The British and French have been here more than 100 years. We are learning. For many years we were very careful and only interested in economic and trade issues” said a senior diplomat in Addis Ababa.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Beijing also is handicapped by a shortage of field capacity. Embassies across Africa face a dramatic increase in their workload as the number of nationals and companies grows, but without a concomitant increase in staff or resources.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Liu Haifang, Associate Professor, Peking University, Beijing, January 2016.Hide Footnote When the civil war broke out in 2013, the Chinese embassy in Juba had about twenty staff, compared with about 300 American and local employees in the U.S. embassy.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, Beijing, March 2016. U.S. figure is from “Report of Inspection Embassy Juba, South Sudan, Report Number ISP-I-13-29A”, United States Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors Office of Inspector General, May 2013.Hide Footnote Supporting South Sudan’s peace efforts placed additional demands on the mission, but it was not given supplementary resources. The Chinese special envoy does not have a dedicated support team; instead, he relies on desk officers at the Western Asia and North Africa Department when in Beijing, and on embassies while in the field.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, Beijing, March 2016, Addis Ababa, April 2016. For a sense of the scope of the U.S. diplomatic effort, see Princeton N. Lyman and Robert M. Beecroft, “Using Special Envoys in High-Stakes Conflict Diplomacy”, Special Report 353, United States Institute of Peace, October 2014.Hide Footnote

2. Expertise

Chinese diplomats also suffer from a relative paucity of first-hand information. The foreign ministry is one of the very few reservoirs of expertise and field intelligence, yet positions in Africa are less coveted than those in Europe or North America, resulting in a comparatively shallow bench for talent. Diplomats rarely have the freedom, time or authority, to go on fact-finding trips.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, foreign ministry officials, Beijing, March 2014, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote Nor does China possess a network of field-based NGOs to complement diplomats’ knowledge.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, Beijing, March 2016, Addis Ababa, 22 April 2016. Ambassador Liu Guijin said early in his involvement in Darfur he had read everything China had produced on Sudan, but was “shocked” that his Western counterparts “even knew how many concubines each of them [rebel leaders] had and which one was pretty”. Crisis Group interview, Beijing, March 2016.Hide Footnote Western NGOs on the ground are often nervous about engaging China, fearful that sensitive information could be passed on to Juba (a concern many also express about IGAD member states).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, NGO staff, Juba, 2014-2016.Hide Footnote

Outside the foreign ministry, conflict resolution is a nascent discipline and country-specific expertise remains underdeveloped. Although African studies has gained prominence in recent years in think-tanks, most are state-affiliated and the field is underfunded and overlooked compared with U.S.-China relations or hot-button issues in Asia. African studies have tended to focus on broad cross-cutting subjects, rather than country-specific analysis. Moreover, field research by scholars faces both funding constraints and bureaucratic hurdles – a trip abroad of more than five days requires special approval.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, scholars in think-tanks and universities, Beijing, January 2016 and March 2017.Hide Footnote “China has increasing political will but feels constrained …. It doesn’t have many experts who truly understand South Sudan. The reservoir of expertise in China is small”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, scholar in a state-affiliated think-tank who specialises in Sudan and South Sudan, Beijing, January 2016.Hide Footnote

3. The costs of peacemaking

China has paid a price – both economic and in terms of human lives – as a result of its greater role in peacemaking in South Sudan. In 2014, a $38 million, multi-year arms contract between the South Sudanese government and the China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) was made public.[fn]“China halts arms sales to South Sudan after NORINCO shipment”, Bloomberg, 30 September 2014.Hide Footnote Senior diplomats said the contract was signed before the war began and that NORINCO, although a state-owned enterprise, was seeking profit rather than advancing any state agenda.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Beijing, March-April 2016. China’s ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) does not have formal authority over state-owned enterprises. The largest, including China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), are overseen by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), which is of equal bureaucratic rank with the MFA.Hide Footnote The embarrassment caused by the publicity led China to halt the remainder of the contract on grounds it was “inappropriate”.[fn]“China halts arms sales to South Sudan after NORINCO shipment”, Bloomberg, 30 September 2014.Hide Footnote It was the first public indication that China was willing to sacrifice economic gains – in this case a relatively small contract – in the interest of its peacemaker role. Whether this becomes more standard policy remains to be seen.

China’s peacekeeping role also has security implications. Following rushed evacuations and fearful for its workers’ safety, China included protection of workers on oil installations in the UN peacekeeping mission’s mandate in 2014.[fn]S/RES/2155 (2014), 27 May 2014.Hide Footnote Backing this up with action, China deployed its first-ever peacekeeping infantry battalion to South Sudan in January 2015.[fn]Previously, China had 350 engineers, medical and other non-combatant personnel in the mission. The additional 700-strong battalion made UNMISS home to the largest number of Chinese peacekeepers. “Chinese peacekeepers start deployment in South Sudan”, Reuters, 16 January 2015. “UN Mission’s Contributions by Country”, United Nations, 31 July 2016.Hide Footnote But when fighting broke out in Juba in July 2016, Chinese peacekeepers were caught in the crossfire. Five were wounded and two eventually died.[fn]Luo Zheng, “艰难一日,我南苏丹维和步战车遇袭事件始末” [“A hard day: recount of the attack on Chinese peacekeeping infantry fighting vehicle in South Sudan”], China Military, 19 July 2016.Hide Footnote The deaths shocked the nation and the soldiers were publicly mourned.[fn]“维和英雄李磊忠魂归乡 万余群众冒雨相送” [“Peacekeeping hero Li Lei’s soul returns home, thousands brave rain to attend funeral ceremony”], Xinhua, 22 July 2016; “南苏丹维和士兵中秋为两位牺牲战友摆碗筷” [“Peacekeepers in South Sudan set the table for two deceased comrades for Mid-Autumn Festival dinner”], China Central Television, 16 September 2016.Hide Footnote Nonetheless, Beijing subsequently reaffirmed its growing commitment to multidimensional peacekeeping operations.[fn]“综述:中国愿为联合国维和事业作出更大贡献” [“Review: China is willing to make greater contribution to UN peacekeeping”], Xinhua, 28 July 2016.Hide Footnote China is expanding the peacekeeping categories in which it is deploying troops and making multi-year commitments to seven missions.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese diplomat, New York, February 2017.Hide Footnote It also is exploring how it can further develop its role and has set up a task force supported by the $1 billion UN Peace and Development Fund that President Xi announced in September 2015.[fn]Remarks by H.E. Xi Jinping President of the People’s Republic of China at the United Nations Peacekeeping Summit, 28 September 2015; “China to set up $1b peace fund”, China Daily, 29 September 2015.Hide Footnote

V. Road Ahead: Collaboration and Competition

China and the West have largely worked collaboratively on South Sudan and their approaches broadly have complemented each other – providing a model for future cooperation. Beijing’s softer, more private forms of persuasion benefit from the contrast with the Troika’s (the U.S., UK and Norway) harder line. Both Chinese and U.S. diplomats express optimism regarding prospects for coordinated and complementary efforts and are in close contact. Yet overarching U.S.-China tensions colour this engagement and IGAD and its member states must also ensure they do not get dragged into geopolitical rivalries that could undermine their peace efforts.

A. Different Approaches on Economic Issues

Coordination likely will prove more challenging on questions of governance and accountability, and collaboration will coexist with competition. On economic issues, challenge likely will intensify as South Sudan faces a politically-induced economic crisis (prolonged instability has cut oil production by nearly half; international oil prices have fallen; the country experiences hyper-inflation; and corruption is rife)[fn]“Press Release: IMF staff completes 2016 Article IV Mission to South Sudan”, International Monetary Fund, 1 June 2016.Hide Footnote and needs budget support to cover a $300 million fiscal gap in FY 2016-17.[fn]Before the civil war, donors almost never provided direct budget support and development aid was administered through the UN, NGOs or private contractors. Very little of this proved effective, making donors even more wary. “South Sudan seeks $300 mln in external support for budget”, Reuters, 29 August 2016.Hide Footnote Western donors seek to leverage Juba’s requirement for a fiscal bailout to extract commitments to economic reform and fiscal responsibility.[fn]There are questions as to whether the new U.S. administration will pursue the same policy. In 2012, it was reported that South Sudan’s elite had stolen $4 billion. “South Sudan officials have stolen $4 billion: president”, Reuters, 4 June 2012.Hide Footnote While Western nations insist any rescue package “will come with extremely intrusive demands” (which Juba rejects),[fn]Crisis Group interview, EU official, Addis Ababa, April 2016. These conditions include revenue and spending transparency to ensure a bailout does not line the pockets of corrupt officials or finance more violence. “What we want to see is real-time information on how much the government is getting, how much and where it is spending. We do not want to tell it where to spend. We want to ensure that money is not going into some elite’s bank accounts. We can’t justify spending our taxpayer dollars that way”. Crisis Group interview, senior U.S. official, Washington DC, May 2016.Hide Footnote Beijing is uncomfortable with what it deems direct interference in South Sudan’s domestic affairs and demurs on demanding fiscal transparency.[fn]In this, it is shaped by its own unhappy experience, having faced its share of Western criticism over its lack of transparency on military spending. Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats and scholars, Beijing, January-March 2016; Chinese analyst at a state-affiliated think-tank, Beijing, January 2016; senior U.S. official, Washington, May 2016.Hide Footnote For now, China generally has hewed the Western line, echoing the IMF’s advice to the government and refrained from pledging more credit or loans.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior U.S. official, Washington DC, May 2016.Hide Footnote But some Western countries fear China could unilaterally help Juba, weakening their leverage.

B. Strategic Cooperation on Political and Security Issues

On political and security issues, China prefers to work through regional actors rather than directly with the West. That is the case with South Sudan’s Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (JMEC), for instance, which oversees the peace agreement and embodies “three-party [China-Africa-West] cooperation under a multilateral framework” that Beijing feels “comfortable with”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote A Chinese representative is present at JMEC meetings, but “only listens”, one African diplomat noted.[fn]Crisis Group interview, African JMEC member, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote At the same time, China has calibrated its contribution to maintain sway, providing financial and material support, and ensuring Chinese personnel are in influential positions.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior African diplomat and senior Chinese diplomat, Juba, April 2016. “中国政府向JMEC提供30万美元资金支持” [“Chinese government offers $300,000 financial support to JMEC”], Chinese embassy in Juba, 18 April 2016. Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, April 2016; Chinese diplomat, Juba, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Mechanisms like JMEC allow China to justify a form of intervention under the mantra of “African solutions for African problems”. It likely will continue insisting on IGAD’s lead role, even as Western diplomats express doubt about the regional grouping’s commitment.[fn]China is comfortable working through IGAD, particularly given its close relations with Ethiopia, the organisation’s chair. Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, April 2016.Hide Footnote This approach enables China to both secure its influence within boundaries acceptable to its African partners and cooperate with the U.S. While this offers prospects for cooperation, it also carries the risk that South Sudan could suffer from any broader deterioration in U.S.-China relations.

VI. Conclusion: Engagement with Chinese Characteristics

Although China remains largely risk-averse, the degree of its involvement in South Sudan would have been “beyond imagination” even a few years ago.[fn]Chinese diplomats and scholars, Beijing, Juba and Addis Ababa, January-April 2016.Hide Footnote Its experience in the field will continue to inform the debate in Beijing about what level and kind of policy approach is possible, consistent with the non-interference principle.

The new boundaries of Beijing’s interpretation of this principle are yet to be officially delineated, but its rhetoric and actions in South Sudan suggest a rough outline. Specifically, Beijing appears to see direct involvement as legitimate when:

  • Civil conflicts threaten to spill over across borders, jeopardise regional security and stability and cause large-scale humanitarian crises. They are then “no longer internal political affairs but regional security affairs”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese scholar, Beijing, 26 January 2016; Liu Guijin, former special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, March 2016. Also see 王逸舟, “创新不干涉原则,加大保护海外利益的力度”, 《国际政治研究》 [“Introduce new ideas on the non-interference principle, increase efforts to protect overseas interests”], International Political Studies, (Feb. 2013), p. 3.Hide Footnote
  • UN authorisation, regional approval and local consent are obtained.[fn]For instance, during the Darfur crisis, Beijing conditioned its involvement on “AU approval, UN resolution, and the Sudanese government’s acceptance”. Crisis Group interviews, Liu Guijin, former special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, March 2016; Zhang Chun, Senior Fellow, Centre for Africa and Middle East Studies, Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, Shanghai, March 2016. Also see Wang Yizhou, “New Direction for China’s Diplomacy”, Beijing Review, 8 March 2012.Hide Footnote
  • Actions are taken to facilitate political dialogue without imposing outcomes. “We would not meddle with … who should be the president and who should not. We only care about achieving a ceasefire and getting everyone to the table”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Zhong Jiahua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, 8 March 2016.Hide Footnote

In contrast, Beijing sees intervention as illegitimate interference when:

  • Attempts are made to influence domestic politics, such as dictating regime types, siding with political parties or figures or shaping political outcomes.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese scholar, Beijing, January 2016; Zhong Jianhua, then special representative of the Chinese government on African affairs, Beijing, March 2016; Also see Lu Shaye, “中非新型战略伙伴关系的几点思考” [“Some Thoughts on the New Strategic Partnership between China and Africa”], speech given at the Institute of International Strategy at the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC, Beijing, 19 September 2012.Hide Footnote
  • Demands are made on governance issues, such as revenue, spending, political freedom and accountability.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chinese diplomats and scholars, Beijing, January-March 2016.Hide Footnote
  • Intervention is made unilaterally or with a minority group of nations without UN authorisation or regional consent.

Finally, China considers that a “red line” is crossed with the initiation of:

  • Unilateral military intervention in a country’s domestic affairs.
  • Regime change.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chinese foreign ministry official, Beijing, March 2014.Hide Footnote

For the most part, China’s engagement is driven by self-interest although to a lesser degree it has taken into account the desire to export its own governance and development model and shape global norms. Such a distinction increasingly may blur if Beijing comes to see cultivating local political allies who share its views as the most effective means to protect Chinese interests and if it gains the confidence and capability to do so. In South Sudan and the wider Horn of Africa, where Beijing senses political affinity with governments, China has been discreetly promoting its model of governance and development through exchanges and training while resisting actions advancing Western values and political models.

Rather than the hard-edged doctrine its official rhetoric may suggest, non-inter­ference is likely to remain elastic and will continue evolving as China balances newfound activism and traditional risk-avoidance and maintains theoretical flexibility to accommodate experimentation.

China increasingly is being called upon to act, perhaps more than it would like.

As this evolution occurs, contradictions and tensions are bound to surface, in South Sudan and elsewhere, among competing Chinese interests, but also between China’s approach and values and those espoused by the West. At a minimum, Beijing will need more sophisticated expertise on peace and security issues, including peacebuilding and complex emergencies. China has a ready-made rationale and means for doing so – its increased engagement in UN peacekeeping as well as the China-UN Peace and Development Trust Fund, which could be accompanied by funding for more training, research and international exchange opportunities for Chinese practitioners and scholars.[fn]President Xi announced on 28 September 2015 that China would establish a $1 billion China-UN peace and development fund. Subsequently, on 7 May 2016 representatives of China and the UN signed an agreement China would provide $200 million in annual funding over ten years for a UN Peace and Development Trust Fund. “China signs agreement with UN to finance peace, security activities”, Xinhua, 7 May 2016.Hide Footnote China increasingly is being called upon to act, perhaps more than it would like. South Sudan is a first test case and, so far, it has illustrated a simple point: that, by working together and melding their at times distinct approaches, China and the West can form a more effective force for stability than either could separately.  

Beijing/Nairobi/Juba/Brussels, 10 July 2017

Appendix A: Map of South Sudan

Map of South Sudan. International Crisis Group/KO, July 2017.