Anger as China hosts 'fugitive' leader of Sudan

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir arrives in Beijing this week, drawing the ire of human rights groups who have attacked China for playing host to the war crimes-indicted leader.

On 9 July, the south of Sudan secedes from the north, meaning that Mr Bashir and his government in the northern capital Khartoum will lose three-quarters of the country's current oil output, around 500,000 barrels a day. Chinese officials stress that this week's talks will focus on ensuring a smooth supply of oil from one of its major suppliers after the split.

"We have worked out a strategy aiming at achieving peace and making it a living reality in Darfur," said Mr Bashir in an interview with China's Xinhua news agency in the run-up to the visit. Despite his comments, there has been heavy fighting near the oil town of Abyei, which is contested by both north and south.

China's special envoy for Africa affairs and former envoy to Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region, Liu Guijin, said last week China had "done a lot of work to persuade" the north to implement the peace agreement.

However, human rights groups have been strongly critical of Beijing for allowing Mr Bashir to visit. Two years ago, he was indicted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges relating the conflict in Darfur. A year later, genocide charges were added. The ICC indictment requires signatory countries, which excludes China, to detain the Sudanese President.

"China will distinguish itself on the international scene in the most shameful of ways if Beijing welcomes the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir," said Balkees Jarrah, a lawyer at Human Rights Watch. "Bashir is a fugitive from justice for heinous crimes in Darfur. Charges of widespread murder and rape should be cause for condemnation, not an invitation,"

Normally China insists on not getting involved in other country's domestic affairs, but energy security concerns override non-interventionist policies, and China has repeatedly said how it has long been a force for stability in Sudan. And China has been playing both sides, meeting leaders from south Sudan, where it has opened a consulate and launched several projects.

While the north and south have yet to come to terms on how to manage the oil industry after the split, for its part Beijing will work hard to ensure there is a smooth handover to make sure its supplies are not interrupted. While the majority of the country's oil will be in the south following secession, the government in the new capital, Juba, will be reliant on the north's infrastructure to export to places like China.

Sudan is one of China's largest foreign suppliers of crude oil, and China reciprocates with development projects, such as the Western Salvation Highway in Darfur. It also Sudan's main arms supplier.

Mr Bashir has acknowledged that Sudanese secession will have serious economic consequences. Oil from the south currently amounts to about 80 per cent of the country's total oil revenues, which themselves amount to 60 per cent of Sudan's budget.

China is now the world's second biggest economy and is increasingly keen to match that status with diplomatic muscle as its role in the international community takes on a broader significance.