Eyeing oil, China's Hu promises strong ties with South Sudan

Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao congratulated South Sudan on its independence, promising strong ties between the two countries as China seeks to retain its access to Sudanese oil supplies.

China is a major buyer of Sudanese crude oil, and has been keen to ensure the partition of Sudan into two states would not descend into fighting that could disrupt supplies and damage Beijing's stake on both sides of the new border.

China has long had close relations with the government in Khartoum, but has been moving to ensure it also remains friendly with South Sudan, where the majority of the old unified Sudan's oil reserves were.

"Although China and the Republic of South Sudan are separated by thousands of miles, the two peoples have a deep traditional friendship and common wish to enhance friendly exchanges," Hu told President Salva Kiir in a telephone call.

"China's establishment of diplomatic ties with South Sudan has opened a new chapter in relations between the two countries," Hu said, according to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry late Saturday on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

China is willing to "establish a long-term, friendly and stable cooperative relationship with South Sudan, to the benefit of the peoples of both nations," Hu added.

Jiang Weixin, Hu's envoy to the ceremonies marking South Sudan's nationhood, said he hoped South Sudan and Sudan would maintain friendly ties, according to a separate statement on the Foreign Ministry's website.

"(We) believe ... that both sides can resolve their problems through negotiations and consultations," it paraphrased Jiang as saying. "We sincerely hope that both Sudan and South Sudan can forever be good neighbors, good partners and good brothers."

While China has been building ties with the emerging state in southern Sudan over the past few years, it remains a major supporter of the Khartoum government, and its top arms supplier.

China's Consul General in Juba, Li Zhiguo, was cited as saying in the Saturday edition of Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily that China was "friends with people in both north and south Sudan."

With three-quarters of the unified Sudan's oil being located in the south, cooperation in this field would be an important part of China and South Sudan's "mutually beneficial" relationship, Li added, without elaborating.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Miral Fahmy)