Responsible China?

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

LAST WEEK Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the United Nations, made a formal statement on Darfur that calls into question China's claim to be treated as a responsible international player. Mr. Wang began by saying that China wants U.N. peacekeepers to be deployed in Darfur, calling this a "good idea and realistic option," one that should be done "as soon as feasible." But then he went on to explain that China was refusing to support the U.N. resolution calling for such a deployment. Unless China changes its position, the result may well be tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

Mr. Wang argued that China could not support the resolution because Sudan's government was not yet ready to accept U.N. peacekeepers on its soil. But the reason that Sudan is refusing to allow in peacekeepers is that it has faced little international pressure to do so. The United States and its European partners have called upon Sudan to let the U.N. force in. But China, which has enormous leverage over Sudan because of its investment in Sudanese oil fields, has failed to push the Sudanese into accepting the "realistic option" of a U.N. deployment. Indeed, China lobbied hard and successfully to prevent Russia from supporting the peacekeeping resolution, further undermining pressure on Sudan's government to allow in peacekeepers.

Mr. Wang also asserted that, although China supported the peacekeeping resolution in principle, Beijing deemed it "unnecessary for the Security Council to put the draft to the vote in a hurry." How that squares with the call for a deployment "as soon as feasible" is a mystery. Moreover, reports from Darfur suggest that, contrary to the position of the Chinese government, there's every reason to hurry. Sudan's government has declared its intention to launch a new offensive against rebels in northern Darfur, which promises an upsurge of violence in an area that is home to about 250,000 people. The violence is making it impossible for aid workers to help hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Meanwhile the existing African Union peacekeeping force has run out of credibility and money. The stage is set for the worst bout of killing since 2004.

At the end of last week's statement, Mr. Wang lamented that the United States and Britain, the two sponsors of the peacekeeping resolution, "have failed to earnestly heed China's sincere efforts." What efforts, precisely? If China really is sincere about its desire to see peacekeepers in Darfur, it should tell its allies in Sudan's government to call off their military offensive and accept U.N. peacekeepers immediately.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company