Beginning in the late 1990s, China made major investments in Sudan’s oil sector.
When Sudan was still one country, China developed the oil fields initially discovered by the American company Chevron, built the pipelines for transporting crude from Sudan’s interior to Port Sudan on the Red Sea and built the oil refinery. China obtained control of 40 percent of Sudan’s oil production and shared the remainder with the governments of Sudan, Malaysia and India. When the oil fields were operating at maximum capacity, China obtained between 5 and 6 percent of its total crude imports from Sudan.
During the six year period during which southern Sudanese decided whether to remain part of a unified Sudan or opt for independence, it became apparent they would vote for independence, China understood early in the transition process there would eventually be two Sudans and concluded that it had to improve its strained relations with southerners in order to assure continued access to its oil investments in an independent South Sudan.