This will have to be a super-quickie. The caption to the photo in this article reads, “Demonstrators gather outside of the Chinese Embassy in London, on February 12, calling on China to intervene in the Darfur crisis before the Olympic Games in Beijing.”
Expect to see a lot more images like this in the months ahead. The Darfur movement is picking up tremendous steam thanks to Spielberg’s unfortunate decision. (I encourage you to read an excellent new post about that decision over here.)
Finally, before I disappear again, I want to direct readers to an interesting article from Foreign Policy magazine that puts this issue into a slightly different perspective. Many indignant protesters lay all the blame on China. I lay a lot of the blame on China, too, but is it so black and white? What are America and its allies doing themselves to step up to the plate to create change in Sudan? Should the outrage be directed mainly at China and the 2008 Olympics?
I offer an extended excerpt from this thought-provoking piece, and then I have to get back to work.
After four years of tireless efforts, Darfur advocacy groups have had little success in pressuring the Bush administration or any other Western government to move decisively against the Sudanese government for its atrocities in Darfur. These groups are right to dismiss the Bush administration’s latest sanctions initiative as mere posturing; like all of the president’s efforts to date, it’s too limited in scope and lacks a wider, more holistic diplomatic strategy. These groups are focusing instead on the two C’s of humanitarian advocacy – China and celebrities – as a remedy for a crisis that has killed over 200,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million. But in pointing the finger at China, proponents of stronger action on Darfur are merely helping the White House evade moral responsibility for a humanitarian disaster that it labels a ‘genocide.’
With its oil ties to the Sudanese regime and its resistance to U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Khartoum, China is a convenient whipping boy, and a cast of celebrities has signed on eagerly to lead the whipping. Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney have come out in recent weeks to criticize the Chinese government for not responding to the cries of Darfur’s people, zeroing in on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Earnest editorial writers have joined them enthusiastically.
The campaign has had some results. Beijing’s usual foreign policy approach – ‘non-interference’ in Sudanâ€™s domestic affairs- has been evolving under the pressure. China has become more active in trying to persuade the Khartoum regime to cooperate with the international community. China is willing to pursue a peace settlement, and indeed President Hu Jintao pressured Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on this issue and duly urged cooperation with the United Nations on his visit to Khartoum in February. Beijing has also appointed a full-time envoy tasked with assisting in resolving the Darfur crisis.
But threatening a ‘Genocide Olympics’ alone wi’l not bring peace (or peacekeepers) to that troubled region. No amount of criticism will convince Beijing to pursue a coercive strategy and a nonconsensual deployment of U.N. peacekeepers that Khartoum rejects. Yes, China has the economic leverage to gain the ear of President Bashir, but that hardly means it has the ability – or, more to the point, the will-to bully him into accepting a large U.N. peacekeeping contingent in Darfur. China’s multibillion dollar investments in Sudan’s petroleum industry are a much-needed source of energy for its mushrooming economy. Beijing may make tactical moves to pressure Sudan, but it will not choose human rights over oil, a matter of paramount national interest.
And, even if China were capable of delivering Bashir, the Sudanese government is not the only impediment to an effective peace process. Nowadays, more people may well be dying from tribal clashes than from marauding janjaweed or government forces. The infighting of fractured rebel groups and the sheer number of displaced people with no homes to return to are also immediate and significant obstacles to peace. But China has little influence over the rebel movements and is ill-positioned to act as a mediator between them.
No, China is not at all free of blame – it has used its power on the UN’s Security Council to protect Sudan’s government, and it has showered the murderous regime with gifts and guns. Is China, however, the one power that should be singled out, and were China to do all it could to stop the fighting would it make a serious difference? It’s at least something to think about as we continue our hand-wringing.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.