China pressing Sudan: Hope on Darfur at last


The grave humanitarian crisis in Darfur in southwestern Sudan in which a minimum of 200,000 innocent Darfurians have been killed and over 2.5 million expelled from their homes at the hands of Sudanese government-backed militias called the Janjaweed, drags on with every seemingly positive small step being crushed almost immediately. We therefore greet the latest “encouraging” story, in last Saturday’s New York Times, by Lydia Polgreen, headlined, “China, in New Role, Uses Ties to Press Sudan on Troubled Darfur” with deeper skepticism than real hope.

On first reading, Polgreen’s story in the Times indeed seems like good news. For at least two years, it has been known that China has had extensive dealings with the dictatorial regime of President Omar al-Basir, who seized power in Khartoum in 1989 and embraced militant Islam and played host, according to the Times, “to a variety of jihadists, including Osama bin Laden.” Chinese President Hu Jintao, during a state visit to the Sudan, increased its already substantial financial assistance and investment by agreeing to underwrite the construction of a new presidential palace for al-Bashir.


Polgreen’s reporting points out “Amid the international outrage over the bloodshed in Darfur, frustration has increasingly turned toward China, Sudan’s biggest trading partner and international protector, culminating in Steven Spielberg’s decision last week to withdraw as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics.” Spielberg had been challenged in an op-ed piece by actress Mia Farrow, who has long been active, along with actor George Clooney and NBC Today Show’s Ann Curry, among public figures demanding action on Darfur.

Polgreen adds, significantly, “China has begun shifting its political position on Darfur, stepping outside its diplomatic comfort zone to quietly push Sudan to accept the world’s largest peacekeeping force,” sourcing “diplomats and analysts.” Moreover, according to the same report, China has “acted publicly, sending engineers to help peacekeepers in Darfur and appointing a special envoy to the region who has toured refugee camps and pressed the Sudanese government to change its policies.” Polgreen also quotes Andrew S. Natsios, the former special envoy of President George W. Bush to Sudan, as saying, “China in my view has been very cooperative. The level of coordination and cooperation has been improving each month.”

During his eight-nation tour of Africa last week, President Bush made a point of stopping in Rwanda, at a memorial and burial site for some of the 800,000 Rwandans who were murdered by machete-wielding marauders in 1994. President Bush reiterated his vow that another major catastrophe like Rwanda would not happen on “his watch” in Darfur. President Bush, both houses of Congress and all viable candidates in the two major parties for president have called the crisis in Darfur a “genocide,” and have vowed to stop it.

Mia Farrow’s challenge to Steven Spielberg to use his influence to persuade China to intervene with Sudan on behalf of the innocents of Darfur has apparently produced some authentically encouraging moves on the part of the Beijing government.

George Clooney, another major Hollywood actor who has been outspoken on behalf of the victims in Darfur, in an interview with Joel Stein for a Time magazine cover story, expressed the frustration of so many who have been active to bring an end to the murders and forced evacuations in Darfur, wondering if all of his efforts really would make any difference.

He answered his own question by reiterating his commitment to stay active in the cause.

Here in St. Louis, the Jewish Community Relations Council has been a major organizer and participant in the Save Darfur Coalition, chaired by community leader Lesley Levin, a member at large of the JCRC. There have been rallies nationally and locally, hundreds of thousands of post cards, letters and emails sent to the White House, Congress and the United Nations, and the killings go on and on. But the encouraging news reported from Khartoum by Polgreen in The New York Times is a reminder that no matter how frustrating and bleak the situation appears, we must continue our efforts to bring an end to the genocide in Darfur.

We urge all of our readers to join the Save Darfur Coalition by calling the JCRC at 314-442-3871.