BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao called for restraint from the two Sudans on Tuesday after South Sudan President Salva Kiir told Hu that his country’s larger northern neighbor had declared war on the newly-independent state.
Hu “stated that he very much hoped that both Sudans would proceed from the broader considerations of the fundamental interests of both countries’ people and regional peace and stability and adhere to choosing peace, respecting each others’ sovereignty and exercising calm and restraint,” state television said.
He urged both sides to settle their disputes through peaceful negotiations and give and take, it added.
“The urgent task is to actively cooperate with the mediation efforts of the international community and halt armed conflict in the border areas,” the report paraphrased Hu as telling Kiir during a meeting in Beijing.
“China sincerely hopes that South Sudan and Sudan can become good neighbors who coexist in amity and good partners who develop together,” Hu added.
Kiir told Hu that Sudan had declared war on his newly-independent country, following weeks of border fighting between the two countries.
“It (this visit) comes at a very critical moment for the Republic of South Sudan because our neighbor in Khartoum has declared war on the Republic of South Sudan,” Kiir said.
“I have undertaken this visit because of the great relationship that I value with China. China is one of our economic and strategic partners,” he added.
Kiir’s visit comes days after he ordered troops to withdraw from the oil-rich Heglig region after seizing it from Sudan, a move that brought the two countries to the brink of all-out war.
Sudanese war planes bombed a market in the capital of South Sudan’s oil-producing Unity State on Monday, residents and officials said, an attack the southern army called a declaration of war.
Sudan denied carrying out any air raids but its President Omar Hassan al-Bashir ramped up the political tension by ruling out a return to negotiations with the South, saying its government only understood “the language of the gun”.
Weeks of border fighting have brought the neighbors closer to a full-blown war than at any time since South Sudan split from Sudan as an independent country in July.
The two territories went their separate ways last year without settling a list of bitter disputes over the position of their shared border, the ownership of key territories and how much the landlocked South should pay to transport its oil through Sudan.
The disputes have already halted nearly all the oil production that underpins both struggling economies.
For China, invested in the oil sector of both nations, the standoff shows how its economic expansion abroad has at times forced Beijing to deal with distant quarrels it would like to avoid.
Sudan had been one of China’s top foreign suppliers of crude oil, but the latest Chinese customs data show crude imports from Sudan fell nearly 40 percent in January and February compared to a year earlier.
Additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ed Lane