14 of 29 captured Chinese workers in Sudan have been freed

January 30, 2012 (Shanghaiist) – Perhaps due to the special relationship between the governments of Sudan and China, 14 of the 29 workers held by rebel militants in the southern region of Sudan (not to be confused with South Sudan, the world’s newest country) were rescued by the Sudanese Army only two days after their capture by militant rebels.

The 29 road construction laborers were captured on Saturday from a remote worksite in Abbasiya, a small town in South Kordofan province, by the northern branch of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Rescue efforts coordinated by the Sudanese army and the Chinese Embassy in Khartoum began on Sunday.

The Associated Press reports:

The Chinese workers were “liberated” by Sudanese troops and were evacuated to the town of El Obeid, Omdurman Radio quoted South Kordofan province’s governor Ahmed Haroun on Monday as saying. He said that they were in good health.

The SPLM is a guerilla organization turned political party with a long history of opposition against the official Sudanese government. From 1983 to 2005, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (the military wing of the SPLM) fought in the Second Sudanese Civil War against the official Sudanese government, a protracted conflict which claimed between 1 to 2 million casualties of war.

Today, the SPLM is closely allied with the government of South Sudan, and is led by none other than the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit.

China, Sudan and the ubiquity of Chinese workers

The capture is just the latest flare-up in China’s sometimes tense engagement with Africa. At turns applauded for investing in African countries’ infrastructure and development in exchange for access to natural resources, China is also just as often considered to be merely the latest colonial master of the African continent.

Locals in Africa and elsewhere have been known to complain of abuse and discrimination from the Chinese foremen and managers of industrial projects:

Chinese state-owned companies send thousands of employees to do much of the work instead of training local residents, an approach that sometimes produces faster results, but can also alienate local populations and put Chinese workers at risk (via New York Times).

However, China’s relationship with Sudan differs from other countries, since Sudan can easily considered to be one of China’s BFF authoritarian governments. As with Iran and North Korea, China has few qualms about dealing and aligning with an unpopular regime, who in this case just so happen to be known for its genocidal tendencies in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

Steven Spielberg went so far as to bow out of his participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in order to protest China’s support of president Omar al-Bashir’s regime, which included arms sales to Sudan. Mia Farrow (mother of Damien, son of Satan) went so far as to dub Beijing’s 2008 coming-out party the “Genocide Olympics”.

We do find stories involving workers in exotic countries to be interesting, since they serve as reminders (and for many, introductions) to the scale of Chinese industry extending throughout the globe. Last year, when montages of the government mobilizing Air China planes to bring home the 30,000 Chinese workers from Libya aired on CCTV, the question of what 30,000 workers were doing there the first place went publicly unasked.

Africa is hardly the only region where Chinese workers are occasionally the victims of hostility and violence. In October, 13 Chinese sailors were killed on the Mekong river in northern Thailand. The Mekong serves as an important trade route between China and Southeast Asia.