China has agreed to deploy additional peacekeepers to South Sudan, significantly raising its security profile in the war-torn country. With the failure of two cease-fires in South Sudan’s six-month-long conflict, China has committed a brigade of 850 soldiers to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), bringing the force’s total deployment to roughly 20,000 in the coming months. The move reinforces a shift in tactics for China, from noninvolvement toward forging peace.
China’s decision comes after months of turmoil that has impacted every facet of South Sudanese society. Since December, interethnic conflict between Dinkas supported by President Salva Kiir and Nuers supported by Vice President Riek Machar engulfed the new nation after Machar allegedly attempted a coup. Indiscriminate and ethnic violence has impacted key oil-producing states as well as the Unity and Upper Nile states. Rival factions have ignored both previous cease-fires reached through peace talks in Addis Ababa. The U.N. has condemned the violence and urged both sides to lay down their arms.
Already, the conflict has displaced nearly a million people and created 345,000 refugees. Violence has impacted food stability for 3.7 million South Sudanese and hindered the ability of aid workers to access affected communities. The conflict is also damaging South Sudan’s vulnerable economy, cutting oil production, which accounts for 98 percent of GDP, by one-third. Last month, Juba was forced to borrow $200 million from oil companies and postpone loan repayments just to keep the country afloat.