Peace and Freedom
February 2, 2007
Chinese President Hu Jintao returned to Africa this week on his second trip to the continent in nine months. Here, today in Sudan, President Hu can persuade the world community that China will stop catering to pariah nations. And a week from now, when talks resume on the North Korean nuclear issue, China has another opportunity to show its hand.
President Hu and China have ignored U.N. sanctions against Sudan's government in Khartoum, allowing this African pariah nation to continue the death and destruction in Darfur.
But President Hu could bring his tremendous influence over the government in Khartoum to bear in an effort to stop the genocide.
Hu has unique influence over the Sudanese government because China buys 60 percent of Sudan's oil output. China is also building hydroelectric projects such as the $1.8 billion Merowe complex, which will almost double the country's electric generating capacity.
China's goals in Africa include opening additional markets for its goods and services, exploiting low-cost labor, and tapping Africa's immense petroleum and mineral wealth.
Along this path, China has had no problem finding favor with pariah nations embargoed by the U.N., the United States and the European Union for their human rights violations and their autocratic regimes.
Sudan and Zimbabwe have leapt at the opportunities offered by China. But investments and trade between these outlaw nations and China undermines, in large measure, mainstays of the international community.
And China risks further isolation and recriminations from the west if it continues down this path.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has an opportunity during his visit to Sudan today to express concern, or even to condemn, the actions of Sudan in Darfur.
The United States considers the human suffering now ongoing in Darfur as "genocide," according to the U.S. Department of State. Last year, the U.S. re-established its U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Sudan. Today, the U.S. is the largest single food donor to Sudan, providing 85 percent of the food distributions by the World Food Program during 2006.
One State Department field officer who asked not to be identified said to us, "It would be nice if China condemned what is going on in Sudan. It would be great if China donated food to the Sudanese people. But thus far, China seems only to want to make money from a regime bent on terror and starvation."
Some analysts believe China is ready to do some of the things this officer and much of the world has urged.
Burned by ignoring North Korea's nuclear weapon and long range missile development programs, China felt compelled to side with the U.S., Russia, Japan, and South Korea, more than is the normal Chinese practice, following North Korea's nuclear testing last year.
Some have suggested that the experience with North Korea has encouraged China to make a policy shift toward a more enlightened role in world affairs.
In an International Herald Tribune commentary February 1, 2007, Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrahndt of the Council on Foreign Relations and Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund wrote, "The widespread recognition in Beijing that the North Korean issue had been mishandled over the previous year seems to have been a tipping point. An already growing sense among Chinese leaders that fence- sitting and providing unquestioned cover to allies could prove more costly to Chinese interests than active - even coercive - diplomacy is on its way to being a fixture in China's foreign policy doctrine."
China also is becoming more sensitive to world opinion and the reactions of the international community to some of its conduct, wrote Kleine-Ahlbrahndt and Small. And Sudan may be the place where this shift becomes more apparent.
"Beyond being a public relations disaster for Beijing, Sudan poses a growing threat to regional stability. Risks abound for China on the African continent, placing its substantial investments, and even citizens, in danger," wrote Kleine-Ahlbrahndt and Small. "Its [China's] consolidation of ties with the leadership of a few regimes risks alienating large segments of the public and leading to instability that threatens Chinese interests."
Today the president of China himself has a huge opportunity to influence public opinion and the international community. By speaking out against the suffering of the people in Darfur, President Hu can demonstrate a new direction to the world community if he chooses.
And in a week, on February 8, the next round of North Korean nuclear discussions involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S. are scheduled to commence in Beijing.
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