For the U.S. and China, a Test of Diplomacy on South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS — The United States may have midwifed the birth of South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation. But China has quickly become among its most important patrons, building its roads and pumping its oil.

Now, more than a year after South Sudan’s leaders plunged their country into a nasty civil war, the nation has become something of a test of diplomacy between the United States and China, raising the question: Can Washington and Beijing turn their mutual interests in South Sudan into a shared strategy to stop the bloodshed?

To pressure the warring sides toward peace, the United States has circulated a draft Security Council resolution, dangling the threat of sanctions and setting up the possibility of an arms embargo somewhere down the road. The measure could come up for a vote as early as Tuesday.

China, which has long espoused a policy of not interfering in its partners’ domestic affairs, has not revealed its hand. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, signaled to diplomats here last week that his government could be persuaded to back appropriate punitive measures against South Sudan. The Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi, then publicly questioned the “logic” of proposing sanctions while the two sides are talking. China could abstain from voting on Tuesday and let the measure pass.

United Nations investigators have chronicled a litany of horrors since fighting broke out in December 2013. “In Juba, I met people whose whole families have been executed, primarily due to their ethnicity, and women and girls who were taken as sex slaves after their husbands were killed,” the United Nations assistant secretary general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, told the Council last week, urging the panel to ensure accountability for the victims.

The next question will be whether China or the United States agrees to send its friends to the dock.

A version of this article appears in print on March 3, 2015, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: For the U.S. and China, a Test of Diplomacy on South Sudan . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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