As the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region continues, with rebel movements and the Khartoum government locked in negotiations, activists are maintaining pressure on China to play a key role to help end the humanitarian tragedy.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced since conflict began between rebel groups and Sudanese government troops in Darfur in 2003. Human rights groups allege that the authorities in Khartoum have waged a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the black peoples of the region - a charge the state denies.
China is Sudan’s main economic partner. Beijing buys most of Khartoum’s oil, and also supplies arms and ammunition to President Omar al-Bashir’s military. As such, say rights activists, China is in an excellent position to force the Sudanese authorities to end what the activists call the “genocide” in Darfur.
In recent times, Beijing has sent peacekeepers to the war-torn region, promised more aid for the suffering victims and appointed a special envoy to Khartoum. But the Washington-based Save Darfur Coalition, which represents many international organizations dedicated to ending the atrocities, says this isn’t enough.
The group has released a report on Sino-Sudanese relations entitled China in Sudan: Having It Both Ways. The document highlights how Beijing continues to reap the rewards of its close economic ties with Khartoum.... even as it insists that it’s doing its best to stop the killings.
“China must leverage its influence with Khartoum to bring security for the people of Darfur,” said Save Darfur international coordinator, Larry Rossin. “The world must make it clear that China can’t have it both ways in Sudan.”
Rossin appealed to China for it to terminate its arms sales to Sudan until the crisis had ended.
In a statement, the Coalition said: “The report evaluates China’s high-profile media efforts to portray itself as a responsible player in the effort to resolve the Darfur conflict. While the passage of UN [United Nations] Security Council Resolution 1769 authorizing a hybrid peacekeeping mission to Darfur occurred during China’s presidency of the U.N. Security Council, reports indicate that China also worked to weaken the terms of the resolution."
The report also points out that Sino-Sudanese trade increased by more than 50 percent in the first half of 2007, and says recent studies suggest weapons from China are still being used against the people of Darfur.
"Furthermore, China’s five shipments of humanitarian aid to Darfur – totaling less than $11 million – are dwarfed by the $13 million interest-free loan for a new presidential palace in Khartoum,” the report continues.
The Coalition has also delivered a letter to the Chinese embassy in Washington, once again stressing to President Hu Jintao China’s “unique position” to help end the Darfur tragedy.
“The coming weeks are a critical period for Darfur,” the letter states. “Either very fragile progress will be cemented towards peace and reconciliation, or promising initiatives will founder and the suffering of millions of Darfuris will deepen. Your government has it within its power to ensure the positive outcome.”
Jill Savitt, of the Dream For Darfur organization, described the Chinese government as “essential” to bringing peace to the region. “China buys more than two thirds of Sudan’s oil, and then is able to recoup some of that outlay of funds by selling weapons to Sudan. And it is clear that the oil revenues from China are being used to underwrite the genocide that Khartoum is waging. Genocide is expensive. There are the planes to buy – the Antonovs (bombers), and the janjaweed militias to pay to undertake this genocidal campaign.”
Human rights activists say China is growing increasingly concerned that the situation in Darfur is going to jeopardize the success of next year’s Beijing Olympic Games. This is why, they say, China has appointed a special envoy [Liu Guijin] to Sudan, announced plans to send engineers to Darfur to help to develop the impoverished region and voted in favor of an international resolution that authorizes an African Union-U.N. hybrid force of up to 26,000 police and troops for Darfur, after previously blocking the resolution.
Savitt, though, remains unimpressed.
“Unfortunately, these steps are cosmetic," she said. "They have resulted in no changes on the ground in Darfur – except for the much, much worse. Violence in Darfur is escalating. There is more insecurity and less access for humanitarian workers. Towns have been bombed, and there are reports that Khartoum is amassing military around many, many towns in Darfur.”
Savitt continued: “China did help to facilitate the passage of Resolution 1769 – that authorizes the deployment of a peacekeeping operation. But leading up to the passage, China also led the effort to weaken it significantly. It stripped out of the resolution, in particular, any sanctions on Khartoum for its intransigence. While Beijing has bragged about and touted its vote for the resolution, we should be clear that China has not said anything about the deadlines of Resolution 1769 being entirely missed since its passage.”
She said many relief workers, afraid for their safety, were fleeing from Darfur – leaving more than a million people without any humanitarian aid whatsoever. Activists say China should bear some responsibility for this situation.
“It is clear that China is not doing nearly enough to exert its influence on Sudan to bring security to Darfur. Under intense criticism about how inappropriate it is for Beijing to simultaneously sponsor an Olympics at home, and genocide in Africa, China is publicly touting the steps it has taken. But the situation is continuing to deteriorate,” Savitt maintained.
China has repeatedly emphasized that its business relationships with Sudan have no impact on the situation in Darfur, but Savitt disagrees.
“Trade between the two countries has more than doubled in the first half of the year, and China continues to sign new agreements – oil development agreements – that strengthen the relationship between the two countries. Khartoum can only feel emboldened that China is continuing to deepen its relationship, economically, with the country.”
Rossin added: “While China makes statements about its desire to see peace in Darfur, especially through the envoy that it appointed, Beijing’s military relationship with Sudan remains very troubling.”
Savitt said activists were planning to increase pressure on Beijing as the Olympics approached.
“We want to be clear that we absolutely oppose a boycott of the Games. We believe in the ideals of the Olympics. But we will continue to use the spotlight on the Games to urge China to act,” she stressed.
Beijing points to the peacekeepers it’s sending to Darfur as evidence that it’s committed to peace in the region. But Rossin said, at best, China – in its ongoing economic support of Sudan - was sending “mixed messages” to Khartoum.
He appealed to the Chinese authorities to acknowledge the atrocities that had happened – and continued to occur – in Darfur.
“They have never actually recognized that Sudanese government actions have caused massive death and displacement in Darfur, and they need to do that instead of just speaking about it as if it’s merely a civil war. They need to increase their humanitarian aid so it’s greater than the amount of economic assistance they give to Sudan in building a presidential palace,” Rossin said.
He added that the future of the Olympics was in China’s hands, and that the only way that Beijing could avoid the Games being linked with the horror of Darfur was for it to act “decisively” to end the crisis.