Following months of speculation regarding its foreign policy ambitions, China's cards have been revealed.
A multibillion dollar transfer of weapons in June to the South Sudanese government, a regime embroiled in a civil war, shows China's new willingness to involve itself in what it used to call 'other countries' internal affairs.'
In the world's youngest country, Beijing has emerged as the world's newest interventionist.
With the bloody civil conflict in South Sudan seemingly at a deadlock, China has acted to shore up the government forces.
China North Industries Corp., the country's biggest arms producer, shipped a consignment of weapons to South Sudan in June, Bloomberg reported.
Consisting of missiles, grenade launchers, machine guns and ammunition, the shipment was worth $38m.
While South Sudan's Defence Minister General Kuol Manyang Juuk said the order was placed "well before" he assumed his post in July, the timing of the shipment shows which side China is backing.
The conflict in South Sudan ignited when the country's President, Salva Kiir, accused his deputy, Riek Machar, of launching a coup. Machar was ousted from the government and later went on to launch a rebellion against his long-time rival soon after.
Kiir hails from the dominant Dinka ethnic group, while Machar comes from the second most numerous Nuer ethnic community. The dispute that began between two ambitious politicians has evolved into a civil war with ethnic overtones.
Over the past eight months, widespread human rights abuses have taken place, with the European Union and the United States slapping economic sanctions on the leaders they hold accountable for atrocities.
Ceasefires have held for a matter of hours, while further talks have not materialised. With the arms shipment, China is hoping to tip the balance of the war.
Oil Interests at Stake
The conflict in South Sudan, raging into its eighth month, poses a direct threat to China's significant oil investments in the country. China buys more than two thirds of South Sudan's exported oil. Moreover, China National Petroleum Corp is one of three companies that produce oil in the East African state.
- Peter Gadet and Santino Deng: EU Names South Sudan Military Leaders to Face Sanctions
- South Sudan Curfew Violators to be Shot Dead as 'Only Witches Move at Night'
- South Sudan: Four Million People at Risk of Famine due to 'Lack of Funds and Public Awareness'
- South Sudan Conflict: Scores of Patients Executed in Hospital Beds in 'Affront to Human Dignity'
Protection of its oil interests are now at the heart of China's policy in South Sudan. While Beijing spent months urging the warring sides to find a peaceful resolution, the façade of neutrality has now slipped.
Speaking to Bloomberg, the LSE's Laura Barber said China's typical policy of non-interference was out of step with its aims.
"China traditionally views its military ties with African governments to be in accordance with a policy of non-interference and respect for state sovereignty," Barber said, as quoted by Bloomberg.
"In the context of South Sudan, where atrocities have been committed by both sides of the conflict, this position may prove to be problematic for China -- particularly as it continues to seek long-term peace and stability in South Sudan."
While China has long espoused restraint when it comes to other countries' internal affairs, it has already sought to play a direct role in the mediation of the South Sudan conflict.
With its interests at risk, Beijing has pushed through a multimillion dollar arms transfer to an embattled government. In doing so, Beijing has taken its involvement in another country's war to that of an interventionist.