Invest with a human face, urges Sudanese official

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2007, 12:00am

A Sudanese official warned yesterday that the mainland's investment in oil production could cause further instability in the conflict-ridden country, unless Beijing did more to engage the local population.

China has been criticised for buying oil from Sudan and building related infrastructure in the country. Critics say the financial support is helping Khartoum's fight against rebels in the western Darfur region through state-backed militia.

The deputy governor of Sudan's central bank, Elijah Aleng, said: 'If the Chinese and their government do not mind what is happening with the population and continue to produce oil ... the Chinese will be promoting the war, no matter the good intentions.

'We have invited the Chinese to invest in the oil industry but we are advising them to invest with a human face.'

Mr Aleng was previously executive director of the humanitarian arm of a Sudanese rebel group that battled the government before 2005. The Islamist government fought Christian and animist rebels in the south of the country before a peace deal two years ago.

Beijing could offer aid to help provide medical services, schools and clean drinking water, as well as diversify investment to other areas, such as agriculture, he said. He described Chinese investment in Sudan as 'huge', but did not give a figure.

Reports say China is building a pipeline and port facilities in Sudan, as well as buying two-thirds of the country's oil exports.

'You need to be considerate about the situation of the citizens, because when you are exploiting oil you are bound to disturb populations that are there,' Mr Aleng said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the African Development Bank, which is being held in Shanghai. 'You are also bound to be in conflict with the ones who do not get their part of the cake.'

However, the Bank of Sudan official did not excuse his own government.

'It is therefore the government's [responsibility] to tell investors, in this case the Chinese, to be mindful of the local sensitivities so that there is harmony,' he said.

Mr Aleng also warned that Chinese workers could be targeted, as they have been in other African countries.

China, a member of the UN Security Council, has used its veto to block moves to send international peacekeepers to Darfur.

There have been calls for countries to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics over the issue.

'China now has a vote in the UN,' Mr Aleng said. 'We would like it to be used in such a way that it creates harmony in Sudan and not discord.'

Fidelity Investments, the world's largest mutual fund firm, has sold 90.6 per cent of its American depositary receipt holdings in PetroChina.

That was done amid pressure from US activist groups on institutional investors to divest their shares in the mainland's largest oil producer due to its parent's investments in Sudan.

According to the International Energy Agency, China's oil demand is expected to grow by just over 6 per cent this year.

The African Development Bank signed an agreement with Sudan yesterday to open a field office in the country, which could help restart assistance suspended over repayment problems, said officials from the two sides.