Chinese Official Decries Attempts to Link Darfur, Olympics

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 19, 2007

BEIJING, May 18 -- China's new foreign minister on Friday denounced U.S. and European efforts to link the Beijing Olympics with Chinese policy in Darfur, saying they run counter to the Olympic spirit.

The comments, from Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, underscored China's determination to prevent anything from spoiling the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which are viewed by the public and government as an international endorsement of China's rising status and its effort to cultivate friendly relations with countries around the world.

"There is a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games," Yang told reporters after meeting with the visiting British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett. "This is against the spirit of the Games. It also runs counter to the aspirations of all the people in the world, and so their aims will never be achieved."

A group of 108 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the Chinese government last week warning that the Beijing Olympics could be endangered if China did not change its policies in Sudan. The Bush administration, while praising China for recent steps, has long complained that Beijing is not doing enough to pressure the Sudanese government to accept a full U.N. peacekeeping force in the embattled Darfur region.

In addition, some U.S. entertainment figures have raised the threat of an Olympic boycott unless China moves more forcefully to use its influence in Khartoum, with which it has deep economic and military ties. A similar suggestion was endorsed during the French presidential campaign by Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate who lost to Nicolas Sarkozy.

Apparently in reaction, President Hu Jintao's government on May 11 appointed its first special envoy for Darfur. He is Liu Guijin, a former Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Several days earlier, the Foreign Ministry announced the dispatch of 275 Chinese military engineers, assigned to participate in a U.N.-organized reinforcement to help a beleaguered 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Both decisions were seen as gestures to demonstrate China's support for a U.N. plan to station more than 20,000 soldiers and police officers in the Darfur region to stanch the war there. Since it broke out in 2003, as many as 450,000 people have died from violence and disease, and about 2.5 million have fled their homes.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has accepted the 3,500-member reinforcement team to bolster the African Union force. But so far he has balked at deployment of the full 20,000-strong peacekeeping force envisioned in a plan worked out by the former U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan.

While endorsing the plan, China has insisted that whatever is done must be coordinated with Bashir's government. In that vein, Yang stressed that continuing negotiations are the best way to resolve the standoff and bring about an end to the killing.

"China has been taking efforts to solve this issue properly," he said, according to the Foreign Ministry, "and China is willing to promote the realization of peace and stability in the Darfur region together with all concerned parties."


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