The Game of Life
“Other countries also must do much more, but China is crucial. If Beijing were to suspend all transfers of arms and spare parts to Sudan until a peace deal is reached in Darfur, then that would change the dynamic. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan would be terrified — especially since he is now preparing to resume war with South Sudan — and would realize that China is no longer willing to let its Olympics be stained by Darfuri blood.”
By Nicholas D. Kristof – New York Times, January 24, 2008
The Beijing Olympics this summer were supposed to be China’s coming-out party, celebrating the end of nearly two centuries of weakness, poverty and humiliation.
Instead, China’s leaders are tarnishing their own Olympiad by abetting genocide in Darfur and in effect undermining the U.N. military deployment there. The result is a growing international campaign to brand these “The Genocide Olympics.”
This is not a boycott of the Olympics. But expect Darfur-related protests at Chinese Embassies, as well as banners and armbands among both athletes and spectators. There’s a growing recognition that perhaps the best way of averting hundreds of thousands more deaths in Sudan is to use the leverage of the Olympics to shame China into more responsible behavior.
The central problem is that in exchange for access to Sudanese oil, Beijing is financing, diplomatically protecting and supplying the arms for the first genocide of the 21st century. China is the largest arms supplier to Sudan, officially selling $83 million in weapons, aircraft and spare parts to Sudan in 2005, according to Amnesty International USA. That is the latest year for which figures are available.
China provided Sudan with A-5 Fantan bomber aircraft, helicopter gunships, K-8 military training/attack aircraft and light weapons used in Sudan’s proxy invasion of Chad last year. China also uses the threat of its veto on the Security Council to block U.N. action against Sudan so that there is a growing risk of a catastrophic humiliation for the U.N. itself.
Sudan feels confident enough with Chinese backing that on Jan. 7, the Sudanese military ambushed a clearly marked U.N. convoy of peacekeepers in Darfur. Sudan claimed the attack was a mistake, but diplomats and U.N. professionals are confident that this was a deliberate attack ordered by the Sudanese leaders to put the U.N. in its place.
Sudan has already barred units from Sweden, Norway, Nepal, Thailand and other countries from joining the U.N. force. It has banned night flights, dithered on a status-of-forces agreement, held up communications equipment and refused to allow the U.N. to bring in foreign helicopters. The growing fear is that the U.N. force will be humiliated in Sudan as it was in Rwanda and Bosnia, causing enormous damage to international peacekeeping.
Another possible sign of Sudan’s confidence: an American diplomat, John Granville, was ambushed and murdered in Khartoum early this month. Many in the diplomatic and intelligence community believe that such an assassination could not happen in Khartoum unless elements of the government were involved.
Chinese officials argue that they are engaging in quiet diplomacy with Sudan’s leaders and that this is the best way to seek a solution in Darfur. They note that Sudan has other backers, and that China’s influence is limited.
It is true that since the start of the “Genocide Olympics” campaign (www.dreamfordarfur.org) a year ago, China has been more helpful, and it’s only because of Chinese pressure on Khartoum that U.N. peacekeepers were admitted to Darfur at all. But the basic reality is that China continues to side with Sudan — it backed Sudan again after it ambushed the U.N. peacekeepers — and Sudan feels protected enough that it goes on thumbing its nose at the international community.
Just a few days ago, Sudan appointed Musa Hilal, a founding leader of the Arab militia known as the janjaweed, to a position in the central government. This is the man who was once quoted as having expressed gratitude for “the necessary weapons and ammunition to exterminate the African tribes in Darfur.”
Other countries also must do much more, but China is crucial. If Beijing were to suspend all transfers of arms and spare parts to Sudan until a peace deal is reached in Darfur, then that would change the dynamic. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan would be terrified — especially since he is now preparing to resume war with South Sudan — and would realize that China is no longer willing to let its Olympics be stained by Darfuri blood.
Without his Chinese shield, Mr. Bashir would be more likely to make concessions to Darfur rebels and negotiate seriously with them, and he would no longer have political cover to resume war against South Sudan. That would make long-term peace more likely in Darfur and also in South Sudan.
I’m a great fan of China’s achievements, and I’ve often defended Beijing from unfair protectionist rhetoric spouted by American politicians. But those of us who admire China’s accomplishments find it difficult to give credit when Beijing simultaneously underwrites the ultimate crime of genocide.
China deserves an international celebration to mark its historic re-emergence as a major power. But so long as China insists on providing arms to sustain a slaughter based on tribe and skin color, this will remain, sadly, The Genocide Olympics.
You are invited to comment on this column at Mr. Kristof’s blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground.