By Mure Dickie in Beijing
Published: July 27 2007 16:55 | Last updated: July 27 2007 16:55
China has defended its non-confrontational policy toward ending violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, saying that critics who link the issue to its hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics are either ignorant or are victims of cold war ideology.
In an interview published on the front page of the official China Daily newspaper on Friday, Liu Guijin, China’s special envoy to Darfur, said the international community should remember that Khartoum was a legitimate government that “deserves respect”.
Mr Liu’s comments highlight China’s concern over mounting criticism of its supportive stance toward Sudan and its determination to avoid the issue clouding preparations for the Beijing games.
In a reminder of the public relations risks, the website of ABC News reported that Steven Spielberg, the US film director, might quit his role as an unpaid “artistic adviser” to organisers of the Olympic ceremonies unless Beijing took a harder line on Khartoum.
Mr Liu said China had been working with all parties to resolve the violence in Darfur, but that coercion and confrontation would “lead us nowhere”, since no peacekeeping operation could operate smoothly without the support of the Sudanese government.
He said some US politicians had unfairly played up the Darfur issue to burnish their moral credentials amid the presidential election campaigns, while those who linked Darfur with the Olympics were either ignorant of reality or steeped in obsolete cold war ideology.
China’s ties with Sudan, which include buying much of its oil exports and supplying it with arms, has made Beijing the target of repeated denunciations from activists, actors and US congressmen, some of whom have said the 2008 games could become known as the “Genocide Olympics”.
However, other observers have said that China is helping to put behind-the-scenes pressure on Khartoum to end a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2m people since 2003.
Margaret Beckett, then British foreign secretary, said in May that Beijing was playing a “positive role” in Sudan.
Chinese lobbying is believed to have led to Khartoum’s acceptance of the deployment of a “hybrid” United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force.
Still, Mr Liu’s comments made clear that Beijing saw Sudanese consent as essential to any effort to end the conflict.
“It is not China’s Darfur, it is first Sudan’s Darfur and then Africa’s Darfur,” the China Daily quoted him as saying.
It is unclear whether such an approach will satisfy critics such as Mr Spielberg, who in May released a letter calling for China to put more pressure on Khartoum to accept UN peacekeepers.
ABCNews.com quoted Andy Spahn, Mr Spielberg’s spokesman, as saying the director was considering “all options” including quitting his role in the Olympics preparations, with his decision likely to rest in part on an expected statement of policy on Darfur from Beijing.
“Steven will make a determination in the next few weeks regarding his work with the Chinese,” ABCNews.com quoted Mr Spahn as saying.
“Steven is one [of] many advisers to the Beijing games and he is trying to use the games to engage the Chinese on this issue,” the website quoted him as saying.