(EnergyAsia, March 18, Tuesday) — China is the single largest provider of small arms to Sudan, having sold over $55 million worth from 2003-2006 (the latest year for which data is available), as the worst violence took hold in Darfur, said a new human rights report.

While other countries were decreasing their arms sales to Khartoum, China stepped in to fill the void by providing Sudan with some 90% of its small arms during 2003-2006.

Betsy Apple, director of Human Rights First’s Crimes Against Humanity Program, said there was a clear link between Beijing’s controlling interest in Sudan’s oil industry and its substantial sale of the small arms being used by Khartoum to commit atrocities in Darfur.

The close relationship between the two countries has been cemented in large part by Beijing’s dependence on Sudanese oil to fuel China’s fast growing economy.

China currently owns the majority rights to drill in eight of the nine Sudanese oil blocks believed to hold significant oil reserves. Sudan ships nine of every 10 of its barrels of oil pumped through pipelines built by Chinese companies to terminals constructed with Chinese help, said the report.

Between 1999 and 2005, a period that includes the start and escalation of the Darfur crisis, Sudan’s overall imports of small arms multiplied 680-fold. Observers on the ground in Darfur have reported seeing a range of Chinese weaponry, including assault rifles, heavy machine guns, antiaircraft guns, antitank weapons, and mortar, according to the report.

Ms Apple has put forth a series of recommendations for concrete actions China can take to reverse its deadly course in Sudan and improve its international standing, as the Beijing Summer Olympics rapidly approach.