BEIJING – China has called an independence referendum in Southern Sudan "an important step" toward stability in the oil-rich region.
China has been seeking strong relations with officials in both Sudan's north and south works to secure its energy needs. Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer, producing 490,000 barrels of oil a day last year, a 50 percent increase from 2006.
The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announced Sunday that 99 percent of voters in the south voted for independence during a referendum earlier in January.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that the referendum was not the end and that the "ultimate goal" should be to bring lasting peace and stability to Sudan.