In preparing to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, China has engaged in a massive campaign to dissemble its role in the Darfur genocide in western Sudan, now entering its sixth year. Such a task was unexpected by Beijing. The regime knew it would encounter strenuous protests over the continuing destruction of Tibet, although the recent violent crackdown in Lhasa suggests Beijing hadn’t anticipated how deeply Tibetan anger runs. China’s leaders also knew they would draw fierce protests over their callous support of the brutal Burmese junta. Condemnation of Beijing’s own gross domestic human rights abuses was equally predictable. But the effectiveness of Darfur advocacy in highlighting China’s role in Sudan took Beijing by surprise. The resignation last month by Steven Spielberg from his role as an artistic director for the Games—a decision of conscience stressing China’s role in Darfur—sharply intensified China’s dismay.
Thus recently Beijing has pulled out all the stops to counter advocacy success in emphasizing China’s longstanding diplomatic protection and economic support for the Islamist regime in Khartoum. Though Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency campaign against Darfur’s African tribes has been authoritatively documented for years, Beijing seeks to obscure this grim reality through distortion, half-truths, and outright mendacity. In turn, nothing encourages Khartoum more than China’s refusal to speak honestly about violent human destruction in Darfur, where growing insecurity has brought the world’s largest humanitarian operation to the brink of collapse.
Why does China airbrush away Darfur’s genocidal realities? Why has Beijing been Khartoum’s largest weapons supplier over the past decade? Why has China repeatedly wielded a veto threat at the UN Security Council as the world body vainly struggles to bring pressure to bear on Khartoum? The answer lies in China’s thirst for Sudanese crude oil.
Since the beginning of serious oil development in the 1990s, China has been the dominant player in oil production consortia located mainly in southern Sudan. China was also complicit in the scorched-earth clearances that were part of oil development until the north/south peace agreement of 2005. What China got for its ruthlessness was prime access to the 500,000 barrels of crude that Sudan now produces daily, and production rights that help insulate China from the economically debilitating costs of off-shore oil purchases. Given the voracious growth in China’s oil consumption, Beijing has determined that ignoring gross human rights abuses in Sudan is simply a cost of doing business.
This is why China has offered unstinting diplomatic protection to Khartoum, most consequentially at the UN Security Council. And now in defense of this destructive protectionist policy, China offers up deliberate distortions of Darfur’s terrible truths. Thus Khartoum’s adamant refusal to accept desperately needed non-African troops and specialists for a UN-authorized peace support operation becomes a mere “technical” problem, according to Liu Guijin, China’s Darfur envoy. But this is false. The regime’s refusal to accept the UN-proposed roster of troop-contributing countries has largely paralyzed deployment of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), authorized by the Security Council last July. Britain’s UN ambassador spoke for many when he declared earlier this year that Khartoum had made a “political decision” to obstruct deployment of UNAMID.
China blames the “international community” for not pressuring rebel groups in Darfur to negotiate an end to the conflict. But while there is some justification to this charge, the real problem lies in China’s refusal to countenance any sanctions that might pressure Khartoum to engage in good-faith diplomacy. Indeed, China will not allow even targeted sanctions against regime officials most responsible for flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.
Confident that China will block punitive actions, Khartoum recently resumed savage civilian clearances in West Darfur, deploying regular military forces and Arab militia proxies. Many tens of thousands of African civilians were displaced by ground and air attacks, and hundreds were killed; towns, villages, and camps for displaced persons were destroyed; humanitarian aid to the victims was deliberately blocked. Only immense confidence in China’s diplomatic protectionism emboldened the regime to resume such large-scale genocidal destruction.
If China is to be a legitimate host of the 2008 Olympics, the preeminent event in international sports, it cannot be complicit in the ultimate international crime—genocide. The world community must respond more forcefully to this intolerable contradiction.
[Eric Reeves is author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide”]