China questions US threat of UN sanctions on South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS - China on Friday questioned the logic behind a US push to create a United Nations sanctions regime for South Sudan while warring parties there negotiate a power-sharing deal to end the conflict in the country, the world's newest state.

The United States circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution on the measure to the 15-member body on Tuesday but stopped short of proposing an arms embargo or placing specific individuals on a blacklist.

"The question arises as to what is the best way to facilitate (the political) process - whether at this moment, when the two sides are negotiating for a solution, you talk about imposing sanctions," Chinese UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi told reporters. "Frankly I don't see the logic behind this."

"Sanctions are a punitive thing to do ... it intends to punish," he said. "To apply a punitive measure now would send out what kind of a message - a right message or wrong message?"

China is a Security Council veto-wielding member, along with Russia, the United States, France and Britain.

Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million have fled their homes since fighting erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 between soldiers allied to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to his former deputy Riek Machar.

The core of the US draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, is a threat to impose an asset freeze and travel ban for anyone undermining security or interfering with the peace process after March 5 and April 1 deadlines set by the eight-nation East African IGAD bloc.

IGAD has so far been unsuccessful in its attempts to mediate an end to the civil war in the impoverished oil producing state. China is a major investor in South Sudan's oil industry.

"The highest priority either for the Security Council or the international community is to encourage in a constructive way negotiations with the hope that they would reach agreement at an early date and actually implement the agreement," Liu said.

An advance party of Chinese peacekeepers arrived in South Sudan in January and the rest of a 700-strong contingent is due to arrive by early April to join a United Nations mission protecting civilians in the country.