China and Sudan

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

THE DARFUR crisis has demonstrated the limits of U.S. influence. President Bush and administration officials have described it as genocide and pushed intermittently for sanctions, peacekeeping deployments, and a deal between Sudan's government and its rebel opponents, but their efforts have been hampered by the hesitancy of other players. Sanctions resolutions in the U.N. Security Council have been delayed and diluted because Russia sells weapons to Sudan's government and because China has a large stake in Sudan's oil. Efforts to deploy a serious peacekeeping force have been undermined partly by foot-dragging within the Security Council, partly by the indifference of Sudan's Arab neighbors to the suffering of Darfur's Muslim victims and partly by the ambivalence of the African Union, which has veered between brave efforts to supply soldiers and a misplaced deference to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Yesterday brought a small victory in the effort to force action. Now a bigger test follows.

Yesterday's victory occurred at the summit of the African Union. For the second consecutive year, Mr. Bashir sought the presidency of the union, even though its chief achievement has been the Darfur peacekeeping operation made necessary by Mr. Bashir's own support for genocide. In the days before the meeting, reports suggested that Mr. Bashir might succeed in his ambition, an outcome that would have destroyed the African Union's credibility not only in Darfur but in conflict mediation elsewhere. Fortunately, Africa's leaders balked at this prospect and chose a rival candidate.

The next test involves Chinese President Hu Jintao, who today begins a 12-day tour of Africa that includes a stop in Sudan. Mr. Hu's main goal is to do business: China's trade with Africa is booming. But he may also be ready to push Sudan's leadership to accept the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force that would build on the existing African Union contingent. A Security Council resolution already calls for such a deployment, but Mr. Bashir has been resisting it. Yesterday a Sudanese spokesman indicated that his government no longer objected, perhaps signaling an awareness of the limits to China's willingness to provide diplomatic cover.

The African Union snub and the Chinese leader's visit provide an opportunity to regain the initiative on Darfur, which is descending further into misery and is destabilizing its neighbors. Yesterday a French aid group said it was pulling out of the territory because of insecurity, and on Sunday six other international charities said their work in Darfur was close to a standstill. Fighting has spread into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic; it is a primary reason that Sudan's north-south peace agreement, concluded after a two-decade war that killed an estimated 2 million people, is at risk of unraveling. The question for Mr. Hu is whether he merely wants to create an illusion of diplomatic progress on Sudan to protect China from the appearance of complicity in genocide or whether he means to ensure that peacekeepers are deployed.

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