Khartoum, Sudan — The first two of four Chinese armed military Mi-171 attack helicopters arrived in the capital city of Khartoum, Sudan last week along with the first batch of 12 Chinese soldiers out of the 140 to be sent to Sudan as part of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peace-keeping operation which has been ongoing since early 2007.
140 soldiers that will be assigned to peace-keeping efforts of the UNAMID hail from the Chinese army aviation brigade assigned to the 81st Group Army of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stationed just outside of Bejing. The 81st Group aviation wing was re-designated in May 2017 as its peace-keeping helicopter wing with the intent on deploying them to Sudan to carry out supply operations, air patrols, as well as troop transport of Chinese peacekeepers already on the ground and currently assigned to UNAMID.
The Mi-171 is a Chinese variant is based on the Russian Mil Mi-17 “Hip.” Which China acquired the rights to manufacture from Russia in 2008 and is built by the Chinese aeronautics company, Sichuan Lantian Helicopter Company Limited. A joint venture between China and the Russian aeronautics firm, Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant with the plant based in Chengdu in the southwest Chinese province of Sichuan.
In a welcoming ceremony on June 11th, Military Attache to the Chinese Embassy in Khartoum, Guan Aibing, praised the latest deployment of Chinese troops and their helicopters to the region saying that “The Chinese government is concerned with achieving peace in Sudan’s Darfur region. This unit will constitute China’s contribution to the peacekeeping operations in Sudan.” Guan continued; “Soon these helicopters will be deployed in Darfur region to take part in the peacekeeping operations there.”
The Darfur region within Sudan where the Chinese aviation unit and these helicopters are reported to be slotted to work in has been rife with conflict since early 2003 where clan warfare along with genocidal ethic cleansing has resulted in hundreds of thousands killed and made the region one of the bloodiest places in East Africa.
The death and destruction in Darfur for the better part of the 2000’s prompted the United Nations Security Counsel (UNSC) to approve a peace-keeping resolution along with the African Union that put upwards of 18,000 multinational peace-keeping troops on the ground to enforce the Abuja Agreements, or better known as the Darfur Peace Agreement. This outlined power-sharing along with equal wealth distribution from the newly tapped oil reserves along the Upper Nile region in the south; of which the Chinese state-owned oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) controls 75%.
The Darfur Peace Agreement didn’t hold as tempers flared as Sudanese government opposition is the south was not seeing the equal wealth distribution it was entitled to by the Darfur Peace Agreements and more civil war broke out resulting in more peace talks. This time the peace talks happened in Doha, Qatar where under the supervision of the U.N. Security Council the Sudanese government along with representatives from the ten rebel groups known as the Liberation and Justice Movement agreed upon what is known as the Doha Agreement in 2011.
After several bloody clashes over land disputes in North Darfur along with tensions in South Sudan that came to a boiling point, saw the peace deal quickly dissolved and yet another brutal civil war broke out in the region.
This prompted the UNSC to request an increase of U.N. peacekeepers from the 50 country participant members of the U.N. Security Council mission in Sudan in the fall of 2015. To which China’s President Xi Jinping declared his country’s commitment of upwards of 8,000 Chinese military troops to the United Nations peacekeeping standby force for Africa and as well as a hefty purse of $100 million in military assistance to the African Union.
Currently China has about 3,000 troops operating in Sudan with the majority of those troops within the oil-rich regions of the Upper Nile which seem more inclined to protect the Chinese state-owned CNPC oil refineries and its pipeline snaking up north to Suakim oil terminal at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
China’s involvement in peacekeeping operations in Africa and Sudan in particular has many experts along with the United States crying foul. Their continued focus on strategic areas indicates that China was never truly interested in peace within the region but more for what natural resources the African continent has under its soil and expanding its military footprint abroad.
The vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Central Intelligence Agency senior analyst on Asian affairs, Douglas Paal, echoed just that in an interview with Reuters saying, “They clearly want to create a more international armed force so they can operate in more challenging environments.”
China’s President Xi of course refuted these claims by stating that, “We [China] are committed to peaceful development. No matter how the international landscape may evolve and how strong China may become, China will never pursue hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence.”
Yet Khartoum couldn’t be happier with China and its oil pipeline as it routinely boasts that “Sudan will be capable of producing all the weapons it needs thanks to the growing oil industry.” Chinese oil investment money has afforded them every opportunity to fund their civil wars and increase their military and weapons stockpiles, and continues to champion China’s dominant expansion within Sudan, as long as the money just like the oil flows north and into the Sudanese coffers.
In ancient Chinese culture, the symbol of the dragon symbolizes potent and auspicious power, a celestial guardian. One such dragon who dwells deep in caves was known as Treasure Dragon and was charged with protecting all the precious jewels and metals within the earth. Each of these dragons had a magical ‘pearl’ that according to legend would multiply if touched and symbolizes the valuable of treasure.
The question remains, does China truly care about bringing peace to the African continent, or simply acquiring the treasures held within the earth.
Feature image courtesy of: Xinhua