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Will US-China Engagement Succeed in Stopping Darfur Violence?


U.S. President George Bush is back in Washington after representing the United States at the Beijing Olympics. Addressing human rights in Beijing last Thursday, the president said America stands firm in opposing China’s detention of dissidents, human rights advocates, and religious activists. On Sunday in meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mr. Bush voiced U.S. concern over the situations in Sudan, Tibet, Burma, Iran, and North Korea. Mr. Bush says his discussions with President Hu on these issues are an ongoing process and he does not need the Olympics to serve as a pretext for talking to the Chinese about issues on which he says both countries are constantly engaged.

The director of the Dream for Darfur organization, Jill Savitt, was recently denied a visa to go to China to attend the games. She says that exerting political pressure to get China to curb its military support for Sudan’s war on Darfur involves more than just presidential-level talks.

"I believe that if the United States government wanted the genocide in Darfur to end, it would end…that the United States government and the Chinese government are certainly the two most powerful governments in the world, and it is hard for me to believe that if they wanted Omar al-Bashir to stop killing his own people, that they couldn’t bring that about. So, this is child’s play, what’s going on right now, this bringing it up with the president, not bringing it up with the president. None of these leaders can say that they are anti-genocide leaders because they’re not," she said.

For hosting a major world sporting event, says Savitt, China does not need to justify its foreign policy and human rights positions on every world crisis for which it comes under criticism. However, she notes that Beijing needs to be confronted for its complicity and long reach in helping a rogue government to execute a mass slaughter against hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

“I don’t think China is required to address every conflict that’s going on in the world right now. I’m not asking China to intercede on Iraq or Afghanistan. China is paying for a genocide. It gives the government of Sudan $2 billion a year, and that’s what the government uses to kill its own people, to buy the guns and the planes, to hire the janjaweed. And then China also sells the weaponry that allows the government to kill its own people. So this Olympic host is complicit in the genocide. It’s underwriting it. It’s the financier. It’s the arms supplier. It is not playing a neutral role. And we are pointing out the inconsistency of an Olympic host presenting itself as a leader for peace, by being an Olympic host while being complicit in a genocide,” she said.

In making the argument that without support from China, Sudan would not be able to carry out its notorious campaign against Darfur, Darfur activists hope that keeping up the pressure on Beijing during and after the Olympics will summon up enough international outcry to get China to stop boosting the Bashir regime. Although the Chinese government denied Savitt’s application for a visa to attend the 2008 games, the Dream for Darfur director says she takes great satisfaction in working to end the Sudan conflict through an internet campaign that can reach concerned citizens all over the globe.

“Our protest has been online. We’ve been broadcasting the Darfur Olympics. It’s at darfurolympics.org It’s a daily webcast from [American actress] Mia Farrow at a Darfur refugee camp, talking about different issues there. Today our topic is about the Olympics itself. And she’s talked about what the refugees think about the Olympics on our website,” she said.

The irony of darfurolympics.org’s campaign, notes Savitt, is that Chinese authorities have blocked the netcast from being received in Beijing because of tight restrictions placed on websites in the hotels and communities where Chinese citizens and international guests are staying over the next two weeks during Olympic festivities. Nevertheless, Jill Savitt says that when the games are over, the pressure for Beijing to end its support for Sudan will be a major project for diplomats at the United Nations, as China steps up to become Chairman of the U.N. Security Council in the coming month.

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