What Does The Birth Of South Sudan Mean For Asia?

South Sudan

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The big news over the weekend was unarguably the birth of the world’s 193rd country and Africa’s 54th nation – South Sudan.While millions of South Sudanese celebrated euphorically in Juba (the capital of South Sudan) and the rest of the world, leaders in Asia, a continent where kids are taught to be competitive right from kindergarten, were busy preparing blueprints of diplomatic policies to engage (read : benefit) from this development.

So what does the newly formed country have which has most powerful nations in Asia licking their chops? Well, a lot of things:

Oil: This is almost like stating the obvious. South Sudan has inherited most of united Sudan’s oil fields. About three-quarters of Sudan’s roughly 500,000 barrels per day of oil output came from the south which now makes South Sudan one of the most oil-rich countries in Africa.

Infrastructure projects: South Sudan has virtually no infrastructure at the moment. Consequently the leadership of the country has announced it will mobilize US$ 500 billion for infrastructure development in the next five years. The country also has ambitions to leverage its central location by building an airport and becoming the hub of the African countries and the world just like Dubai and Singapore. All this is music to the ears of infrastructure companies, especially the ones which are backed by the state in Asia.

Arable land: It is a well worn out statement in the investment management industry which says ”Middle-East has oil, China has Rare Earths and Africa has food.” South Sudan is the size of France but with only 8.5 million people. As per the Food and Agricultural organisation, only 84% of the country’s arable land is used for crops. If farmed efficiently, it is estimated that South Sudan could feed all of Africa (or India or China) i.e. over a billion mouths.

Natural resources: The country has vast mineral wealth resources most of which remains untapped to date. As a result there are no accurate estimates for them but the country well has the potential to be the ‘Mongolia of Africa’.

How are the Asian countries going about sending ‘friend requests’ to their new entrant on the world map?

China: China being China didn’t waste any time in becoming a ‘big brother’ to the infant African nation by signing the joint communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Sudan. But Chinese leadership shall be walking a tightrope here because while it is building ties with Juba, it remains a major supporter of the North Sudanese government for whom it is one of the major arms suppliers. This won’t sit too well with the people of South Sudan who are seeing this day after decades of civil unrest and millions of deaths.

India: India seems to have piped China in this one. I think the country foresaw the split of Sudan a few years ago and embarked on efforts to build relationships with the ‘would be’ leadership of South Sudan.The same included regularly inviting South Sudan officials and politicians to India for training and exchange programs from 2006 onwards. In 2007, India became one of the first countries to open a consulate in Juba. The new leaders of South Sudan don’t seem to have forgotten their Indian friends and have been singing ballads in their praise since their independence which was just about 72 hours ago.

South Korea: Taking a cue from China, South Korea has also warmed up to the newest sovereign nation in the world and signed a diplomatic accord with it on Saturday.

So what is the future game plan going to be for these countries? In my humble opinion both India and China are going to go all-out in offering to build massive infrastructure projects like roads, dams, etc. for South Sudan. They shall pad it up with the creation of social infrastructure like schools, hospital, zoos (South Sudan is now the world’s second largest migration of animals) etc. However, the differentiating factor would be what each of them wants in return.

Discounting oil, which is a common goal for all nations, I suspect India shall be more focused on securing its food needs while China would be hungry for minerals and raw materials needed to power its economic growth. Either way, one thing is very clear – neither India nor China are doing what they are doing to ‘help the people of South Sudan realise peace, development and prosperity’ as they proclaim. All of this is a part of their cold blooded tactic to plunder South Sudan’s natural resources. Welcome to Imperialism 2.0. At the same time, it is impossible to imagine that the leaders of South Sudan are unaware of the motives of the country’s new ‘friends’.

Make no mistake – South Sudan shall need India and China (along with the others who shall be joining the plundering queue very soon) if it is to grow from a country having one of the lowest literacy levels, abject poverty and non-existent infrastructure to one which provides a decent standard of living to its citizens. However, only time shall tell whether the leaders of the new nation cut deals in the country’s best interests or their own.

(Tanuj Khosla is currently working as a Research Analyst at 3 Degrees Asset Management, a fund management firm in Singapore. He can be followed on Twitter @Tanuj_Khosla. Alternatively he can be reached at [email protected] Views expressed are personal.)

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