Resolving conflicts after an army-led coup in Sudan could be one of the last American-led dispute settlements in Africa.
Last week, following an apparent military coup in Sudan, civilians took part in pro-democracy protests and were shelled with tear gas and bullets by Sudanese security forces. At least fifteen protesters were killed. In response to the unrest, many western countries have deprived Sudan of foreign aid, including the United States, which has withdrawn $700 million in foreign aid. After a few days of economic pressure, the Sudanese coup leader agreed to restore a civilian-led government.
Using aid to encourage conflict resolution has certainly served the United States well in the past as an effective peacebuilding mechanism. If Sudan is an indicator, this tactic may not work as well in the future.
China, Sudan’s largest trading partner, has not condemned the military takeover. China’s indifference to or tacit approval of the coup softened the blow of the economic consequences the West imposed on Sudan and hampered American peacebuilding.
While the United States still has some semblance of influence in the region, the slow pace of conflict resolution in Sudan portends inevitable change. It seems likely that China will become a more proactive force in Africa and have a more dominant influence. To counter this development, the United States will have to adapt its strategy in Africa.
Sudan’s inclusion in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s economic investment strategy aimed at integrating multinational trade with China, has entwined Sudan’s economic success with Chinese economic power. In line with other major recipients of BRI investment, China has eclipsed other countries as Sudan’s main trading partner. Sudan owes China an estimated $6.4 billion as a result of BRI investments.
Sudan was enthusiastic about accepting help from China and strongly integrated its long-term development plans with BRI initiatives. Sudan, in turn, plays a role in China’s broader goal of expanding its sphere of influence beyond Asia. China’s interest in Sudan centers mainly around the African nation’s significant natural resource and energy extraction potential, which is reflected in China’s cultivation of a stronger Sudanese oil and agricultural industry. China has also pledged to support Sudan through expensive infrastructure projects, including a new international airport in Khartoum and access to satellite navigation via China’s Beidou GPS system.
US investment in Sudan is small compared to that in China. While the United States is the largest international donor of humanitarian aid to Sudan, China has injected significantly more capital into the region through BRI than its US counterpart.
Differences in US and Chinese condemnation of the unrest in Sudan illustrate differences in peacekeeping interests between the United States and China. The United States tends to be vocal in times of civil unrest, while China is traditionally non-interventionist when involved in the political affairs of countries outside the Sinosphere. China is known to make exceptions when political involvement could establish new bilateral ties, for example China’s preventive meetings with the Taliban. In essence, China remains pragmatic, while the United States uses aid as a major incentive for warring factions to meet peacekeeping standards. China can intervene verbally, but it ensures that it does not endanger its assets.
A lack of shared peacekeeping between China and the United States reduces the effectiveness of a country’s ability to promote stability. If a country’s largest financier does not make an effort to restore peace in times of civil unrest, smaller players in the international system have little economic leverage to successfully bring peace. Only by working together do these smaller players stand a chance of exerting enough pressure to bring about change. In this way, the United States convinced the military junta of Sudan to allow civilian representation in the new government.
However, the coup suppression in Sudan shows that America’s position as a peace broker is vulnerable at best in states that are heavily indebted to BRI, as the magnitude of Chinese investment makes China the dominant player over the United States in the region. makes. Future peacekeeping efforts in Africa could be hampered if US-China interests clash and China begins to use its BRI investments to gain political favor and undermine US political legitimacy.
Since the United States is pursuing a more active involvement in Africa, it would be rational for China to use its economic power to influence political issues in BRI recipient countries in support of China’s financial goals. In this increasingly viable scenario, if the United States is not well equipped to challenge the size of BRI investments, it would have to shift to using allies in Africa and the Middle East as drivers of conflict resolution or a diplomatic strategy. with China to strengthen humanitarian interests in regions subject to political instability.
American policymakers should view the resolution in Sudan as a reality check. The restoration of a Sudanese civilian-led government was due to multinational economic pressures, diplomatic measures and the continuation of Chinese political pacifism, not US power.
Cassandra Shand is a master’s student at the University of Chicago where she studies Public Policy. She has a master’s degree in Politics and International Studies from the University of Cambridge.