Beijing and the Darfur Two Step

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Uriel Sinai / Getty

As Bill Powell says, the Darfur issue –the picture above is of a refugee being treated in a camp in neighboring Chad— is going to haunt Beijing until the Olympics. Now it appears that the cadres are waking up to the fact they may have a problem and beginning the diplomatic dance necessary to deal with it. A letter sent by 108 members of the United States House of Representatives to President Hu Jintao earlier this week called for China to change its policy towards the problem and raised the specter of an Olympic boycott. Reports were already circulating that a senior Chinese diplomat had begun lobbying U.S. politicians on the issue. Then came the next step in this pas de deux , courtesy of a wire story late Thursday that seems to bolster the notion that the letter and other actions have had some effect in the halls of the Communist Party Headquarters of Zhongnanhai. Expect more pirouetting as the Games grow closer.

China names special envoy for Darfur


Associated Press Writer

China announced the appointment of a special envoy dedicated to the Darfur crisis Thursday as Beijing faces international pressure to do more to resolve the conflict and the possibility of an Olympic boycott if it fails to act.
The move came a day after a group of U.S. politicians demanded China use its influence as one of Sudan’s biggest trade partners to persuade the African nation to stop the bloodshed in Darfur.
It also followed the release of an Amnesty International report this week claiming China and Russia breached a U.N. arms embargo by letting weapons into Sudan. Both countries denied the charge.
China has been widely accused of not doing enough on Darfur, given that it buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports and sells the Khartoum regime weapons and military aircraft. As a veto-holding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China has blocked efforts to send U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur without Sudan’s consent.
But faced with intensifying criticism, Beijing has been trying to demonstrate it is willing to help while not overly embarrassing or alienating Sudan’s leadership.
In the latest step, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Liu Guijin, a former ambassador to Zimbabwe and South Africa, has been appointed to the newly created post of special representative on African affairs and will focus on Darfur.
A letter to President Hu Jintao from 108 U.S. House members Wednesday suggested that unless China changed its approach on Sudan, the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing could become a disaster for the Chinese rather than the image enhancer the government is expecting.
French politicians floated the idea of a boycott during their recent presidential race and actress Mia Farrow has called on corporate sponsors of the Games to pressure China to do more on Darfur.
China has bristled at the attempts to link the Games to Darfur, but analysts said the threat got Beijing’s attention.
“This Olympic issue has got them moving,” said Francis Kornegay, an analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg, South Africa. “They definitely don’t want a global or even halfway successful boycott of the Olympics. They can’t take that too lightly, which they aren’t.”
The letter from U.S. lawmakers said that “unless China does its part to ensure that the government of Sudan accepts the best and most reasonable path to peace, history will judge your government as having bankrolled a genocide.”
Jiang, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, did not respond directly when asked to comment on the letter.
“We hope to solve the issue by political means,” she said. “We are ready to make joint efforts with the international community, including the U.S.”
Shen Dingli, executive dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said China is keen to be seen as an active participant in bringing peace to Darfur, where some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million made homeless during four years of fighting.
“China wants to help and wants to be viewed as a helpful country,” Shen said.
During a visit to Khartoum in February, China’s president told Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir that he must allow a bigger U.N. role in trying to resolve the conflict. A senior Chinese diplomat visited a refugee camp in Darfur last month to further display Beijing’s concern.
This week, China announced it would send engineers to help pave the way for a force of 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers planned to join 8,000 poorly armed African Union troops already in the Darfur region. Jiang said Thursday that the team would have 275 engineers.
Al-Bashir’s government dragged out talks on the reinforcements for five months, before recently agreeing to its deployment. U.N. officials want to send an additional 17,000 peacekeepers eventually, but al-Bashir has yet to agree on the details.