On March 15th, 2023, the United Nations Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for another year. However, two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, chose to abstain from the vote. This decision raises questions about the motivations and interests of these two major powers in the African continent.
China and Russia’s abstention from the UNMISS mandate extension vote is not surprising. Both countries have shown a tendency to abstain or veto Security Council resolutions that they perceive as interfering with their interests or those of their allies. In the case of South Sudan, both China and Russia have maintained cordial relations with the government of President Salva Kiir, which has been accused of gross human rights violations and obstructing peace efforts in the country.
China’s interests in South Sudan are primarily economic. The country is the largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, and China is the largest consumer of South Sudanese oil. In recent years, China has invested heavily in South Sudan’s oil industry, providing financial and technical assistance to the government. As a result, China has become a key player in the country’s political and economic landscape.
Russia’s interests in South Sudan are less clear. However, the country has provided military equipment and training to the South Sudanese army, which has been implicated in numerous human rights abuses. Russia has also sought to increase its influence in Africa in recent years, and South Sudan represents a potential foothold on the continent.
China and Russia’s abstention from the UNMISS mandate extension vote is likely to embolden the Kiir government and other actors who are opposed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in South Sudan. The UNMISS mandate includes provisions for protecting civilians, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, and supporting the implementation of the peace agreement signed in 2018. Without the extension of this mandate, it is unclear how these crucial functions will be carried out.
Moreover, China and Russia’s decision to abstain from the UNMISS mandate extension vote is likely to damage their reputations as responsible global actors. Both countries have long argued for the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other countries, but their actions in South Sudan suggest that they are willing to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and the obstruction of peace efforts in pursuit of their own interests.