Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed war crimes-indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as “an old friend of the Chinese people” on Tuesday in Beijing. Bashir is on a four-day official visit to China, his second since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants for his arrest in 2009 and 2010 over his role in the Darfur conflict. But China is not a signatory to the ICC, and it has sizable economic ties with Sudan, so it gladly issued Bashir a visa.
Blouin News has previously written about Bashir’s brazen mockery of the ICC warrant for his arrest by traveling to summits in Nigeria and South Africa and departing before local courts were mobilized to detain him.
The Sudanese government meanwhile continues to issue the usual statements exonerating Bashir from any claims of wrongdoing by the “racist” and “neo-colonial” ICC. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said the ICC indictment is merely a European accusation that has been rejected by the rest of the international community, including the African Union. Referring to the indictment, he added “We don’t say that we are not concerned, but we say that this is a political decision…”
Sudan is China’s third-largest trading partner in Africa. “China supported Sudan in its very dark days when Sudan was let down by the U.S., including extracting Sudanese oil. China helps Sudan in oil refinery and other economic issues,” Ghandour stated. China has invested more than $10 billion in Sudan in the past two decades, in large part by providing low-interest loans and selling weapons in return for oil.
“China and Sudan are like two brothers that are also good friends and partners. Mr. Bashir coming to China shows our partnership is strong,” Xi said. (In late August, three Chinese warships docked at Port Sudan, and to boost military cooperation the two countries’ navies conducted several joint operations over a five-day period.)
And the two old friends will soon get down to business. According to Sudan’s Minister of Transport and Roads, Makkawi Mohammed Ahmed, Bashir will witness the signing of a contract between the Sudanese government and a Chinese company to build a 1,000 kilometer, $1.4 billion new railway line in eastern Sudan. Bashir will also be present for the signing of a contract to purchase 2 planes and 9 river transport ships, in addition to leasing 3 other Chinese-made planes.
Human rights groups are furious, but the geopolitical and economic advantages of courting Bashir make China’s decision hardly surprising.