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Darfur Shadow Over Beijing Olympics

Addressing a joint press conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary Ms. Margaret Beckett at Beijing on May 18,2007, Mr.Yang Jiechi, the new Chinese Foreign Minister, accused foreign human rights activists and others , who have been critical of China’s relations with the Sudan ,of trying to politicise the 2008 Olympic Games, which are to be held in Beijing. He insisted that the situation in Darfur would not tarnish the Games. He said that the calls issued by some of these persons for a boycott of the Olympic Games in protest against the alleged Chinese complicity with the Sudanese Government would not succeed.

2.Mr.Yang said: “There are a handful of people who are trying to politicise the Olympic Games.This is against the spirit of the Games. It is also running against the aspirations of all populations in the world.Their objectives or the target they are seeking to achieve will never be attained.”

3.Human rights activists and US Congressmen have accused the Sudanese Government of indulging in a genocide of non-Arabs in the Darfur region and of blocking the deployment of a UN peace-keeping force in the region to stop the alleged genocide. They have also alleged that the Chinese military and economic assistance to the Sudanese Government in return for the Sudan’s hydrocarbons and its support to the Sudan in the UN Security Council were encouraging the Sudanese Government in its policy of repression in the Darfur region and non-co-operation with the UN.

4. The campaign against Beijing on the Darfur issue and for the boycott of next year’s Olympics if it does not change its policy has been spearheaded by Mia Farrow, the Hollywood actress who is a goodwill Ambassador for the UN’s Children Fund. In an article in the “Wall Street Journal” of March 28,2007, Mia Farrow wrote: “China is pouring billions of dollars into Sudan. Beijing purchases an overwhelming majority of Sudan’s annual oil exports and state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. — an official partner of the upcoming Olympic Games — owns the largest shares in each of Sudan’s two major oil consortia. The Sudanese government uses as much as 80% of proceeds from those sales to fund its brutal Janjaweed proxy militia and purchase their instruments of destruction: bombers, assault helicopters, armored vehicles and small arms, most of them of Chinese manufacture. Airstrips constructed and operated by the Chinese have been used to launch bombing campaigns on villages. And China has used its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to repeatedly obstruct efforts by the U.S. and the U.K. to introduce peacekeepers to curtail the slaughter. As one of the few players whose support is indispensable to Sudan, China has the power to, at the very least, insist that Khartoum accept a robust international peacekeeping force to protect defenseless civilians in Darfur. Beijing is uniquely positioned to put a stop to the slaughter, yet they have so far been unabashed in their refusal to do so.But there is now one thing that China may hold more dear than their unfettered access to Sudanese oil: their successful staging of the 2008 Summer Olympics. That desire may provide a lone point of leverage with a country that has otherwise been impervious to all criticism.”

5.She has been increasingly critical of not only the Chinese authorities, but also of American corporate houses, who have agreed to be the sponsors of the Olympics and of Hollywood personalities such as Steven Spielberg, the famous director, who have been helping the organisers of the Olympics in choreographing the opening and closing functions. Stung by her criticism of his co-operation with the organisers of next year’s Olympics, Mr.Spielberg has reportedly written to President Hu Jintao of China, condemning the killings in Darfur and asking the Chinese Government to use its influence in the region “to bring an end to the human suffering there.” More than 100 US Congressmen have also written to President Hu Jintao, calling on him to use Beijing’s influence to halt the bloodshed in the Darfur region. They have warned that China’s supply of arms and other support to the Khartoum regime could tarnish the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

6. While continuing to reject in public all criticism of China’s co-operation with the Sudanese Government, the Chinese authorities have started showing some concern that this controversy has been damaging the Chinese image as the Olympics draws near. In an attempt to soften the criticism and project an image of a China more caring for the people of the Darfur region, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ms. Jiang Yu said on May 11,2007: “We hope to solve the issue by political means, so we are ready to make joint efforts with the international community, including the US.”She also announced the appointment of a new special representative on African affairs, Liu Guijin, who, inter alia, would focus on solving the Darfur crisisShe also confirmed plans to send 275 military engineers for UN peacekeeping operations.Earlier in April, a senior Chinese official, Mr.Zhai Jun, was sent by Beijing to Sudan to urge the Sudanese Government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai went to Darfur and toured three refugee camps.

9. While welcoming these Chinese initiatives, the human rights activists have expressed their determination to keep up the pressure on Beijing as the Olympics approaches in order to make it change its policy of supporting repressive African regimes in return for oil and gas.

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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