The visit to Beijing by President Omar al-Bashir (L) last year was a sign of the growing ties between Sudan and China.

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The group attacks the construction site in a remote area

Sudanese troops are pursuing the kidnappers, a spokesman says

Region a Sudan territory but straddles Sudan and South Sudan's ethnic, political line

Khartoum, Sudan CNN  — 

Militants captured 70 construction workers, including Chinese nationals, in Sudan’s volatile South Kordofan state, military officials said Sunday.

The group attacked the construction site in a remote area Saturday and destroyed equipment, said Alsawarmi Khalid, spokesman for the Sudanese armed forces.

Khalid blamed the attacks on the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement -North, a rebel force in the border region with neighboring South Sudan.

The Sudanese army is pursuing the kidnappers, the spokesman said.

China confirmed the incident but did not say how many of its workers had been taken.

“The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy to Sudan have initiated an emergency response to the incident,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin said, in quotes carried by the state-run Xinhua agency.

“Currently, the Sudanese government is doing their utmost to locate and rescue the missing Chinese nationals and has enhanced protection for other Chinese nationals in Sudan,” he added.

South Sudan became the world’s newest nation last year after decades of conflict with the north.

International concern has grown over the violence in South Kordofan and nearby Blue Nile states, which has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

The region is a Sudan territory, but straddles Sudan and South Sudan’s ethnic and political lines.

China is Sudan’s largest trading partner, while Sudan is China’s third-largest trading partner in Africa. According to the Chinese foreign ministry, trade between the two countries reached $8.63 billion in 2010, an increase of 35.1% compared to the previous year.

The close bilateral cooperation is mainly driven by oil exports from Sudan, which is among the top oil suppliers for China.

Linking aid, trade and investment, Beijing’s business model in Africa involves building extensive infrastructure projects and granting loans in exchange for access to natural resources, trade opportunities and expansion into new markets.

Last year, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was given the red carpet treatment when he visited Beijing – a trip that included the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Sudanese government and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China’s largest oil company, to “deepen cooperation in the oil and gas field.”

But human rights groups criticized China for the visit because al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war atrocities during the civil war in Sudan – allegations he denies.

CNN’s Paul Armstrong contributed to this report.