of China's military support for the war in Sudan's Darfur region have been
challenged this week by Beijing's tight media controls, its surveillance
tactics, and limited avenues for public protest at the Olympic games. But activists say U.S. athletes produced a
powerful symbol on Darfur by selecting a 23-year-old Sudanese-born member of
the U.S. Olympic track team, Lopez Lomong, to be the American flag bearer at the
games opening ceremonies.
studies Professor Lako Tongun of California's Pitzer College says he hopes the
coalition of human rights groups will succeed in breaking through China's
controls. But he says he fears that when the games are over, Beijing
will abandon the flexibility they have shown on implementation of a Darfur
peacekeeping force, and the West will lose its leverage for further Sudan
have given in, for instance – access to some internet links, and also the
pressure on the Sudan by the Chinese government at the U.N. – namely allowing,
for example, the deployment of the U.N. peacekeeping force, the 26,000. Those are the concessions they have given to
prevent this movement to acquire more support.
Once the Olympics are over, there is not going to be any more
constraints on them. There'll be no
other bargaining tools, basically for the world community to influence China to
behave and help pressure the Sudanese government to change committing the
genocide in Darfur," he said.
Sudanese-born Tongun credits U.S. Olympic athletes for surprising Chinese
officials with their choice of Lomong to carry the U.S. flag in the ceremonial
festivities and sending an unmistakable message of support for ending the
Darfur genocide. At the age of six, Lomong escaped abduction by Sudanese rebels
who he thought had killed off his entire family. He spent the next 10 years in a Kenyan refugee camp before being
selected for adoption by an American family and immigrating to the United
States in 2001. Lomong subsequently
excelled in track and field and trained in northern Arizona for this year's U.S.
Olympic squad. He became a U.S. citizen
selection has been widely seen as a slap at China's revocation of a visa last
week to U.S. Winter Olympics gold medalist Joey Cheek, who has been an outspoken
proponent of an end to government-supported attacks on civilian villages in
Darfur. Cheek is president and co-founder
of the Team Darfur organization, which enlists US athletes to back efforts for
bringing peace to the violence-torn region.
Professor Tongun says the banning of Joey Cheek may have cost the
Chinese more than it helped them, because the American athletes so far have
been the most effective proponents to deliver activists' message so far at the
games under very tight Chinese media restrictions.
now, it seems like no group really has come out. There is, I think, the fear probably that the Chinese government
has been able to achieve over these individuals who wanted to speak out because
of what has happened to this denial of a visa," he noted.
African studies professor says time will tell as the games continue if human
rights activists will be able to have an impact on Bejing's military and
political backing of Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
"The Olympics are not over yet. There might be down the road some statements
because they say Darfur movement is quite strong and I am hoping that the
[superstar, celebrity-dominated U.S. Olympic] basketball team will have some
members who will speak out, hopefully at the end of the Olympics because many
of them are aware of the situation in Darfur," he said.