Saturday, February 16, 2008

China and Darfur in Sudan

After Steven Spielberg’s announced withdrawal as advisor to the Beijing Olympics ceremony, the attention was on China’s involvement, or lack thereof, in Sudan. Below is a response from Professor Ling-chi Wang, retired from University of California, Berkeley:

Reports on the Spielberg decision gave the impression that what little China had done with Darfur was the result of Spielberg’s pressure. This is definitely not true.

It is true that China, unlike the U.S., is opposed to any interference in the internal affairs of other countries, but if necessary, it prefers doing it through the UN.

In fall 2006, long before Spielberg agreed to consider joining the Zhang Yimou team in Beijing, Wang Guangya, UN ambassador, helped secure Sudanese government acceptance of the Kofi Annan’s UN-AU peace-keeping plan.

President Hu Jintao also spoke directly with President Omar al-Bashir in Beijing in November and again in Khartoum in early 2007.

China had also planned to send Zhai Jun, Assistant Foreign Minister, to Sudan before the campaign against the “Genocide” Olympics began in April last year. Zhai toured the refugee camps and within a week Sudan agreed to the deployment of UN troops, including a Chinese component.

Later, Liu Guijin, a special envoy, was appointed as a special envoy for African affairs. In July, China voted for deployment of a 20,000 UN-AU force for Darfur and an end to aerial bombings by government forces.

See reaction from China.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Might as Well Cancel the Olympics, Spielberg is not Coming

A slightly different version can be found on New America Media

Hollywood’s bigger-than-life celebrities enjoy a privileged bully pulpit and they never shrink from using it to advance their pet causes.

Such is the case with Steven Spielberg and his high profile withdrawal as artistic advisor to China’s 2008 Olympics. Ostensibly, Spielberg is protesting that China is not doing enough to stop the human suffering at Darfur.

It’s hard to know the extent China will be devastated by Spielberg’s non-participation--if at all.

Too bad, Spielberg took the typical unilateral American approach, i.e., the Bush doctrine of my way or the highway. Had he genuinely been interested in exerting an influence on China, he would have signed the contract that sat on his desk for months.

He could have seized the opportunity of regular Beijing visits to exchange points of view and express his concerns about Sudan. With growing rapport, the Chinese officials might have explained to him of their long standing foreign policy of non-interference and the nature of quiet initiatives they may have undertaken with the Sudanese government.

The Chinese officials might also explain to Spielberg the limits to what China can do to influence matters in Sudan, and that Beijing subscribes to working within the confines of the United Nations. Crimes against humanity, whether in Sudan, Iraq or by the Al Qaeda, are issues no one nation can correct--except possibly the U.S.

Not every government behaves like Washington and believes that it has a divine mandate to rectify wrongs around the world. In a less diplomatic moment, the officials might even point out to Spielberg that American involvement in Iraq has not exactly lessened human sufferings.

The Olympics is the most celebrated sporting event around the world. It’s regrettable that Spielberg decided to use the spotlight intended for Olympics on Sudan.

Some Americans may celebrate Spielberg’s astute grandstanding on behalf of a worthy cause. Perhaps he did not go far enough. China is America’s most important trading partner and holder of more than $1 trillion in dollar reserves. Arguably, China should have more influence with the U.S. than with Sudan.

Why not ask China to intercede with Washington to demand the cessation of waterboarding for interrogation, indefinite incarceration of prisoners from around the world, and random killing of civilians in Iraq?

Rest of the world is just going to scratch their collective heads trying to understand the connection between international athletic competition and killings in Darfur. But then unlike America, others are not so ready to blame everything that is wrong in the world on China.

Perhaps China will continue to be awe struck by Spielberg’s artistry and overlook his insult. However, his lack of sincerity in dealing with the Chinese Olympic Committee will surely tarnish his image as an international icon.

Some speculated that Spielberg was not being insincere but just caved-in to Mia Farrow’s pressure. She has been looking to launch a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in the name of stopping genocide.

Using the same logic, we would wonder if Spielberg will lead a boycott of FIFA World Cup, the one sporting event dear to Europeans, on the grounds that the EU is not doing enough to get the U.S. to stop committing human rights abuses. Certainly a strong case can be made that the Europeans have more influence on Washington than China has on Sudan.

The EU president, Milan Zver, by the way, did say in response to Spielberg’s withdrawal that sports is too important to be used as a political instrument.

Ultimately, from the opening to the closing ceremony in Beijing this August, will anyone notice that Steven Spielberg is missing in action?
See also accusation of Spielberg as chauvinist in humanitarian drag.
Comment below by bobby fletcher points to early U.S. involvment.