The Quest for Oil
China invests while Sudan wars in Darfur
Paloich, SudanThe Kotolok oil production facility rises from the sandy earth of southern Sudan like an industrial mirage. Winding dirt tracks suddenly turn into straight asphalt roads, each signed with English and Chinese, each pointing to oil.
Follow the Nile north from here, and you trace a line of Chinese influence. Chinese wells pump oil in the former killing fields of southern Sudan, and Chinese workers refine it north of the capital, Khartoum. China has invested an estimated $6 billion plus in Sudan's oil infrastructure, including a 900-mile oil export pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
On a continent of mighty rivers, Africa's biggest ongoing dam project, the Merowe Dam, will soon provide 1,250 megawatts to this power-starved country, courtesy of the Chinese International Water & Electric Corp. Several local residents have been killed by unidentified militiamen and dozens jailed for protesting the forced displacement of some 70,000 people for the $1.5 billion megaproject. More have been killed in the northern village of Kajbar for resisting another Chinese giant dam project.
While American companies are barred from doing business in Sudan and most Europeans stay away for fear of bad publicity, Beijing has provided Sudan with the cash, material, and manpower to jump-start its oil industry, revamp its power grid, and upgrade its irrigation systems. Chinese arms sales have sustained the Sudanese Army in Darfur, although Beijing publicly denies violating a U.N. arms embargo.
Cut-price crude. Linked to this assistance, African and western diplomats say, China buys Sudanese crude oil at a substantial discount from market prices. China is Sudan's biggest customer. Sudan's Islamist-led government sees its arrangement as a pragmatic end run around the overbearing West. But the effects on the ground can be toxic. In the southern oil regions, where hundreds of thousands died during Sudan's 21-year civil war, Chinese companies use extraction methods that are poisoning waterholes and killing livestock, local officials tell U.S. News.
China's popularity with Sudanese leadersBeijing has donated a new yacht to President Omar Hassan al-Bashirisn't mirrored in the attitude of some residents in the country's oil patch. On a recent spring day, 17 men and teenagers sat on the hot steel floor of a shipping-container jail in this oil town. They were among more than 70 people, black Africans from southern Sudan, who'd been arrested and beaten for protesting the lack of oil jobs for local workers. "It is our lands, but we get nothing from this," Manny Kuak, 22, said through the bars as he cradled his battered right arm. "This is all for China and the Arabs in Khartoum."