China says it is sending a delegation to southern Sudan to observe an independence referendum.

China’s interest in Africa’s largest country is high and it has been seeking strong relations with officials in both Sudan’s north and south ahead of the vote on Sunday. Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil producer.

Sudan’s oil-rich mainly Christian south is widely expected to choose independence from the mainly Muslim north.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday that China hopes the vote will be held in a “fair, free, transparent and peaceful atmosphere and that all parties involved should be committed to peace and stability in Sudan.”

Mr. Hong says China is sending an observation mission to the referendum. He did not give details.

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