July 10 (UPI) -- Invested in the country's energy sector, China's emerging role as a peacemaker is being put to the test in South Sudan, the International Crisis Group said.
South Sudan marked its sixth year of independence from Sudan on Sunday. Beijing faced broad criticism in 2008 for its support for the Sudanese government, which is suspected of war crimes in Darfur. In the prelude to independence, however, China displayed its ability to manage foreign risks in South Sudan by helping to shape U.N. peacekeeping missions and broader regional peace efforts.
When it gained independence from Sudan in 2011, landlocked South Sudan gained control over much of the oil-producing regions, but Sudan maintained its grip on export infrastructure. Rebel forces two years after independence were waging war for control over Paloch near the Sudanese border, the only part of South Sudan that was producing oil.
Most of the oil produced from the region comes from fields straddling the poorly defined border separating Sudan from South Sudan. Both countries approached the brink of war in 2012 following disputes regarding oil in the border territory of Heglig.
A report from the International Crisis Group said China's role in the region is linked to "huge investments" made in the region by state-run China National Petroleum Corp. The oil and gas link makes China and its state-owned entities both a political and economic actor in South Sudan, the report read.
The South Sudanese government has worked with Japanese companies on efforts to build an oil pipeline through Kenya to help with oil exports. In 2013, the government in Juba reached out to the United States for support in developing its oil sector, one of the few economic lifelines for South Sudan.
The ICG's report noted that it was Chinese companies, however, that were among the first to tap into the undeveloped market in South Sudan.
"This is a crucial time for peacemaking in South Sudan and a crucial time for China to test its newfound role," the report read. "It's important to get both efforts right."
The latest report from the economists at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said total oil production from an African group of developing countries is estimated to decline by about 100,000 barrels per day, driven in large part by combined output from Sudan and South Sudan.
Both Sudans are party to a multilateral effort, led by OPEC, to curb output as part of a broader effort to balance an oversupplied market.