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A Moment of Opportunity: China, Darfur, and the 2008 Olympics

Filed under: Africa ~ Asia

China, on a domestic and international cleaning binge, is seeking to cleanse its status and reputation by the time it begins hosting the Olympics in 2008 to appear as a developed nation in a first-world prom dress. While this may appear as a farcical whitewash operation by a totalitarian regime, it presents an opportunity for the international community to take concrete steps in resolving the Darfur crisis.

While the Darfur conflict has been well-documented (Wiki on Darfur Conflict) and officially labeled a genocide by the American government, the nations that allowed the situation to continue have until recently seen relatively little outside pressure else than the editorial page. China, as the leader in Sudanese oil imports, is at the center of enabling the Sudanese government. As the BBC states of the rise of China as an energy importer:

“From zero 15 years ago, China last year became the world’s number two oil importer… China has, we are told, been running around the world signing oil deals with everyone from Iran, to Sudan to Angola. In the race to secure future oil resources China is prepared to deal with even the dodgiest regimes, and pay the highest prices.”

China's economic relations with the Sudanese government provided it with significant leverage that it has chosen not to use until of late. With concerns about manners, proper English, and all things image savvy that will hopefully provide an ideal experience for the foreign traveler visiting China for the first time at the 2008 Olympics, China is similarly trying to improve its image abroad as well. Helen Cooper writes in the New York Times about the collision between the internal worries of public image in China and the relation with diplomacy:

China's decision to pressure Sudan about violence in Darfur, after years of protecting that government, can be traced to campaign to boycott 2009 Olympic Games in Beijing; Mia Farrow, good-will ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund, started campaign to label Games in Beijing 'Genocide Olympics' and called on corporate sponsors to publicly exhort China to do something about Darfur; she challenged Steven Spielberg, artistic advisor to China for Games, to add his voice, prompting Spielberg to send letter to Pres Hu Jintao of China asking him to use his influence to stop killings in Darfur; senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, recently traveled to Sudan to push government there to accept UN peacekeeping force, and then visited Darfur refugee camps; turnaround in China's policy serves as classic study of how pressure campaign, aimed to strike Beijing in vulnerable spot at vulnerable time, could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not...

If the United Nations and the West are serious about ending one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of the decade, it must utilize the chance given in this pre-Olympic window by China. With the first noticeable signs that China is willing to act, a formidable and unified multilateral consensus should take advantage of a diplomatically-sensitive China to leverage a more proactive role in solving the Darfur crisis.


Darfur Collides With Olympics, and China Yields, by Helen Cooper, New York Times

Responsible China, Washington Post

Sudan vows to cut red tape on UN to support African peace mission in Darfur

Manners, Manners

Other Opinions

Black Gold: The Financer of Tyranny

China and Sudan, Blood and Oil

Beware hypocrisy on Darfur, China

The Wrong Decision on Sudan

">Darfur Crisis: Towards An Ever Greater Tragedy by Amit Pyakurel

Also on PBH and Ablogistan.

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