When writing about China in Africa it’s easy to think just in terms of how China is impacting African countries and not the other way around. In South Sudan, I’ve been struck by the number of people I’ve met who find China’s contribution to the country’s infrastructure and humanitarian needs underwhelming. Major Chinese projects and investments have been stalled since fighting broke out in 2013 and again in 2016. Chinese peacekeepers (two of whom died) were criticized for abandoning their posts outside an IDP camp that was coming under fire last year.
Now, it seems like China is trying to make up for some of those failings. This week, China donated 1,500 tonnes of rice, about 60 containers, to the government of South Sudan. The bags, handed over today in a ceremony, are clearly marked with the label “China Aid,” a brand I haven’t seen elsewhere in Africa where China has a large presence. In Juba, a Chinese medical team performs most of the surgeries at the capital’s largest hospital. China donated a new building for the government’s ministry of foreign affairs, which also features a prominent “China Aid” plaque. Hundreds of South Sudanese government officials, business people, and students, are being flown over to China to attend trainings every year.
All of this is a shift from China’s traditional approach in Africa of promoting business and trade, and a sign South Sudan may have a lot more say in its relationship with China than we thought. – Lily Kuo