| BEIJING, March 14
BEIJING, March 14 China never promised South
Sudan $8 billion in development funds when South Sudanese
President Salva Kiir visited Beijing in April, but much more
than this could be offered if the country achieves lasting
peace, a senior diplomat said on Thursday.
South Sudan's government announced the figure following the
trip, and until now Beijing has neither confirmed nor denied it.
Speaking to Reuters in an interview, China's special envoy
to Africa, Zhong Jianhua, who has helped in mediation efforts
between the two Sudans and knows both countries well, said there
was no $8 billion development deal.
"If there was any promise, it was that after South Sudan
achieves peace with Sudan then it is a very promising country
and can ramp up development, and then China is willing to play a
development role in South Sudan and help them. But those plans
have to wait for peace before we can talk about this," Zhong
said, sitting in a meeting room inside the Foreign Ministry.
"I don't believe that this is something both sides
acknowledged following the visit. This was not mentioned in any
of the official Chinese reports following the visit; there was
nothing about $8 billion," he added.
"It's not impossible - maybe in the future, and maybe not
only $8 billion," Zhong said, without elaborating.
"Certainly, it needs a development plan, and a big one at
that. It faces a lot of challenges. I've been to Juba many
times. Running water, electricity, road lights, bridges -- it
needs a lot."
Relations between the two Sudans soured soon after South
Sudan achieved independence in 2011 following a long and bloody
civil war, due to arguments over oil revenues and territory.
Landlocked South Sudan shut down its 350,000 barrel-per-day
crude output in January last year in a row with Sudan over how
much it should pay to send the oil through Sudanese pipelines to
the Red Sea.
South Sudan said on Tuesday it would be ready to restart oil
production within three weeks after finalising a deal to resolve
bitter border and security disputes with Sudan.
China has had to play a delicate balancing act.
It is already the biggest investor in oilfields in South
Sudan, through state-owned Chinese oil giants China National
Petroleum Corp and Sinopec. Beijing is also one of Sudanese
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's major supporters.
Zhong said that while he was pleased this week's agreement
had been reached, he remained concerned about the peace process.
"These antagonistic feelings still exist. There are still
people who think now is not the time for reconciliation ... But
the general trend is still progressing in a positive way."
China would continue to work with the international
community to mediate between the two sides, he added.
"President Hu (Jintao) told President Kiir very clearly when
he visited that if you want to develop, it will be very hard
without peace," Zhong said.
China's parliament formally elected Xi Jinping as president
on Thursday to replace Hu after 10 years in the job.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)