War-torn Sudan, where a tenuous cease-fire is in effect, may provide China and the West with a chance to work together to stabilize the larger Horn of Africa. Geopolitical tensions between the two groups have risen sharply recently, and they need a shared concern to begin mending fences.
Given that China, the United States, and Europe have previously effectively collaborated for years in their joint campaign against piracy in the Gulf of Aden, there is reason to assume that this collaboration will be productive. Because it is situated along the maritime route that links Europe with East Asia via the Malacca Strait and the Taiwan Strait, the tumultuous East African area is an important hub for global commerce.
A regional crisis in the “Global South” has a softer geopolitical imprint and the opportunity for a win-win interaction, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ramifications that might affect the balance of power between Beijing and Washington, limiting the space for Sino-US cooperation.
Many now expect that Beijing would be able to carry on its recent diplomatic binge and intervene in the Sudan situation after the world community viewed favorably on China’s attempts to enhance Saudi-Iranian ties and its endeavor to push a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Ukraine.
But at the present, that is not the case. At least until the conflict between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commander General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and armed groups loyal to Sudan’s de facto leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is contained to Sudanese soil, China has no interest in actively interfering to quiet Sudan. China’s choice to act as a mediator between Saudi Arabia and Iran was influenced by their respective geopolitical and economic significance. Beijing has long-standing economic ties to Sudan, but since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, bilateral commerce and Chinese financing have rapidly decreased.
Like it did last year with efforts that resulted in the signing of a peace agreement to end the civil war in Ethiopia, China would prefer to allow the African Union attempt to solve the Sudanese dilemma. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development and other regional players, including the Pan-African group, have not yet been able to take any significant diplomatic action.
Instead, the US and Saudi Arabia have entered the conflict and seized the lead in discussions. To achieve a seven-day cease-fire between the warring groups that ends on Sunday, their representatives met with both sides and mediated in Jeddah. China avoids the costs of continuing to be involved in a difficult issue like the one happening in Sudan by taking a wait-and-see attitude. Despite recent diplomatic action from Beijing, the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “hide your strength, bide your time” continues to guide Chinese foreign policy. But by doing so, Beijing runs the danger of losing ground to Washington in the area.
Particularly with the Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi Jinping’s ambition to increase connectivity across Eurasia and beyond, China has outperformed the US and Europe in terms of strategic penetration in Africa. To retake lost ground on the continent, the European Union and the US government of US President Joe Biden have introduced economic and financial plans in recent years. In light of this, Beijing and the West must work together to avoid a potentially fatal spillover of the conflict in Sudan. The broader Horn of Africa is already in a precarious position due to the region’s enduring poverty, racial and religious divisions, and competing historical narratives. Additionally, the area is susceptible to penetration by jihadist organizations like Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and local affiliates.
Given that most of Europe’s sea traffic travels through this maritime choke point, a further worsening of the situation, together with the continuing Yemeni civil war on the opposite side of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, might imperil international trade. With combined commerce of more than €850 billion (US$918.5 billion), China was the biggest supplier of EU imports and the third-largest destination for EU exports in 2022.
Sino-Western diplomatic cooperation on Sudan would increase the US and Saudi mediators’ negotiating leverage in the current conversations or in any future negotiations to stop the violence and find a peaceful solution to the Sudanese situation.
Nato is allegedly planning to expand into Asia, according to China. However, it is important to keep in mind that as recently as 2016, Operation Ocean Shield saw Chinese and transatlantic alliance vessels performing cooperative anti-piracy maneuvers in the Gulf of Aden.
Furthermore, China’s participation in the battle against piracy in Somali seas has received plaudits from the EU’s anti-piracy force in the Arabian Sea on several occasions. The two navy task forces have worked together to escort humanitarian convoys for the World Food Programme in the area and have even trained together to increase interoperability, notably via joint drills at the Chinese support station in Djibouti, Beijing’s first outpost for armed personnel.
The Global South shouldn’t serve as a battlefield for geopolitical dominance despite all the issues in ties between China and the West, including the trade and technology disputes, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and human rights. Instead, it should serve as a platform for responsible powers to work together for the stability of the globe.