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U.S. and Chinese Imperialism in the Sudans

By Burkely Herrman - September 27, 2013, (used by permission)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The black gooey substance, oil, that comes out of the ground always seems to have broad geopolitical implications. The U.S. attack on Syria was partly about oil and natural gas, but also about Syria’s relationship to Iran and its oil and gas.[1][2] How does this play into South Sudan?

An article published in Chron on August 28th begins to tell this story: “President Barack Obama says he’s selected his outgoing ambassador to Ethiopia to be the U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. Obama says Donald Booth will lead U.S. efforts to implement security agreements the two countries agreed to last year, including disputes over borders and oil. South Sudan peacefully broke away from Sudan in 2011, but tensions between the countries remain high, especially over their intertwined oil industries.”[3] This openness surprised me, so I continued to do a bit more digging, finding that both America and China had imperial aims in South Sudan.

Starting on the White House website I found a number of results. One said that Ambassador Booth will “advance U.S. interests…including ensuring the uninterrupted flow of oil.”[4] As I continued to search, the results just kept coming. A statement issued by the White House Press Secretary on an agreement between South Sudan and Sudan said the following: “I welcome the announcement by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel of an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan on oil revenue. This agreement opens the door to a future of greater prosperity for the people of both countries.”[5] Around the same time, this development was noted in a readout of a call to the austerity-friendly President of Spain.[6] It seemed like the posts connecting oil to South Sudan kept coming: a post in September 2012 described then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to South Sudan to discuss “security, oil and economic opportunity,”[7] another was a readout of a call with the President of South Sudan in which Obama “emphasized the importance of South Sudan and Sudan reaching an agreement on oil,”[8] how the spokesperson of the National Security Council urges that both Sudans make an agreement on oil[9] and a statement from the White House Press Secretary saying that the peace agreement between the two countries has provisions to share “significant portions of Sudan’s oil wealth between north and south.”[10] Then there’s a fact sheet supporting South Sudan highlighting that “agencies across the United States government have examined the tools they can bring to bear to propel development and investment in South Sudan…to ongoing support to assist the government of South Sudan to manage its oil sector transparently and take steps towards joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.”[11] One of the most revealing is a joint statement by the US and South Sudanese governments in December 2011, noting that:

“The conference focused on several important themes central to this goal: responsible management of oil revenue and natural resources…In addition, participants discussed specific investment opportunities in sectors such as oil and renewable energy, information technology, agriculture, transportation infrastructure, clean water and sanitation, capacity building services, and financial services. South Sudan proposed and participants agreed that investments, international support and development assistance will be linked to national priorities.”[12]

One must ask, what all of this talk about oil is really about anyway and its what I looked into next. The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) writes on a page about Sudan and South Sudan noting the background of the problems over oil, noting that most of the oil producing areas are “near or extend across the de facto border between Sudan and South Sudan” but that after South Sudan became independent over two years ago in July 2013, South Sudan “gained control over most of the oil production but…remain[ed] dependent on Sudan because it must use Sudan’s export pipelines and processing facilities.”[13] The EIA continues, noting that after 15 months of on and off negotiations, “South Sudan restarted oil production in April 2013” but that “several unresolved issues remain and production may be curtailed again in the future,” problems which were confirmed by the New York Times, All Africa, AP and BBC.[14] Oil is so important to the governments of South Sudan and Sudan: “oil represented around 57 percent of Sudan’s total government revenue and around 78 percent of export earnings in 2011, while it represented around 98 percent of total government revenues for South Sudan in 2011.” That’s pretty important, considering both countries have over 5 billion in proven crude oil reserves with 70% of them residing in South Sudan. That’s not all, but there are also “natural gas…proven reserves of 3 trillion cubic feet” in the two countries as well. The EIA also lists the major oil companies that have a stake in the two countries: “International oil companies…primarily from Asia, dominate the oil sectors in both countries. They are led by CNPC, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Malaysia’s Petronas.” As a result, its no surprise that “China is the leading export destination for crude oil from Sudan and South Sudan.” There also supposedly a pipeline that “would reduce South Sudan’s reliance on Sudan, but the pipeline’s construction could take at least two years.”

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