The international community is urging Sudan's ally China to pressure the Khartoum government to stop the deadly attacks in Darfur, where 200,000 people have been killed and two million displaced in the past five years. China's envoy for Darfur, Liu Guijin, stopped in London recently on his way to Darfur. He said his government is doing its utmost to bring peace to Sudan. Tendai Maphosa files this report for VOA.
Ambassador Liu spoke at Chatham House, the London based research institute. He acknowledged that Darfur is one of the world's biggest problems, but added that tensions in the region have existed for many years. Liu said China's government has quietly used its influence to engage the Sudanese government, which has been accused of backing militias that have committed atrocities against Darfur's ethnic African communities.
Liu said China has also used what he called direct language with the government in Khartoum.
"The Chinese government is trying hard to find a practical solution," he said. "We are not going to try just to reduce the pressure we are faced with. By doing that we have to conduct the so-called quiet diplomacy, because all diplomacy should be quiet. If we make announcements everywhere, that cannot solve the problem. According to our Oriental culture, we do lot of things quietly."
Liu said the government of Sudan has agreed to the deployment of a United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force as a result of what he called China's vigorous intervention and the efforts of other countries. He added that China was the first non-African country to send troops to Darfur. And he said that rebels also have been responsible for the slow deployment of the hybrid force.
"Everyone knows that some of them openly threatened the peacekeepers, particularly peacekeepers from China," he added. "Countries which border Sudan also need to be more cooperative."
Liu said China has and still provides humanitarian aid to internally displaced people in Darfur.
Earlier this week British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said China's recent diplomatic efforts are a major contribution to ending the conflict in Darfur.
But Alex Vines, who heads the Africa program at Chatham House, says despite China's economic links to Sudan, its influence on Khartoum is sometimes overestimated.
"China is interested in Sudan exactly because it's the only country in Africa where [the] Chinese are producing oil," he noted. "They are buying oil from other places in Africa, but they are a producer in Sudan. That makes it quite significant for them. So that's why this special relationship between China and Sudan. Having said that, I think we can overestimate sometimes the amount of influence the Chinese have. They are a player in Sudan, but the Sudanese government has other relationships also."
Vines says Sudan's neighbors and the African Union could do more, but the solution to the problem lies internally between Sudan's government and Darfur rebels.
Ambassador Liu has been urging western powers to do more to persuade rebel groups to attend peace talks with Sudan's government.
But the Aegis Trust, a non-governmental organization that campaigns to prevent genocide worldwide, says China, with its close political and economic relationship with Sudan, could do much more to ease the crisis. Nick Donovan, a spokesman for the group, wants China to apply pressure so Sudan hands over a government minister and a leader of the government-backed Janjaweed militia to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
"We would like to see them support the UN resolution to hand over the ICC suspects to stand trial for their crimes," he said. "We would like China to press Sudan to remove all obstacles to the deployment of the UN peacekeeping force. And, we would like them to suspend their investment in the Sudanese oil industry while the Darfur crisis is going on, given that the Sudanese government has a central role in orchestrating lots of the violence."
Donovan added that the Chinese are not helping the situation by supplying weapons to Sudan's government.
Violence broke out in Darfur in early 2003 when rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. Sudan's government has bombarded areas of Darfur and has been blamed for backing the Janjaweed in the fight against the rebels.
Pressure has been building on China in the lead up to this summer's Olympic games in Beijing.
Recently, Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg quit as artistic advisor to the Summer Olympics because of China's policy in Sudan.