NAIROBI, Kenya — China is an old friend of Khartoum.
Beijing's policy of non-interference in domestic affairs has made it some pretty unsavory friends, most recently in Syria when it joined Moscow in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution.
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China has shown no qualms about investing in oil infrastructure, roads and railways in Sudan or for that matter selling armaments that were then used against the people of Darfur.
But as southern independence approached China realized that if it wanted to keep getting 5 percent of its crude imports from Sudan it needed friends in the South, too, since that's where most of the oil is.
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Diplomatic overtures were launched and Beijing's envoys found a warm welcome in Juba.
Late last month came the kidnapping of 29 Chinese road builders who were working in South Kordofan, a region of north Sudan where a rebel group is battling the Khartoum army. During the raid by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) rebels 17 other workers escaped while one, it turned out, was killed.
China's official news agency, Xinhua, says the 29 captives have now been released but their captivity shows the tricky balancing act that Beijing is trying to pull off, staying friends with both sides as they inch ever closer to war.
In these circumstances, and with its own citizens now at risk, China's policy of non-interference looks increasingly unsustainable.
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