Mixed Message

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

PRESIDENT BUSH'S announcement yesterday of new sanctions against Sudan because of the continuing genocide in Darfur was well justified and -- after more than a month's delay to allow for fruitless diplomacy -- overdue. It was also out of sync with the disturbing position of China, whose cooperation is essential to bringing sufficient pressure to bear on the Sudanese regime.

On the same day that Mr. Bush extended U.S. economic sanctions to 31 more Sudanese companies and three individuals, China's new African envoy held a news conference at which he argued that more foreign aid and investment, not sanctions, is the right medicine for the regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir. As it is, Sudan sells 60 percent of its oil and 40 percent of its total exports to China, which has invested heavily in Sudan's oil industry and sold weapons to its army. As long as Beijing continues this lucrative partnership, U.S. sanctions, already in place for a decade, are unlikely to prove effective.

Worse, China seeks to discount well-documented atrocities by the Sudanese government, which have recently included the attempted bombing of rebel commanders meeting to discuss a peace deal, as well as raids on villages in southern Darfur. In a just-concluded tour of the region, Chinese ambassador Liu Guijin said he "didn't see a desperate scenario of people dying of hunger." He couldn't have been looking very hard: The United Nations says 250,000 people have been displaced in Darfur since last fall, adding to more than 2 million already crammed into miserable and insecure camps. Deliveries of food and other aid have frequently been disrupted in recent months, according to aid groups.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that the United States will press for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would include further sanctions on Sudan and an enforceable ban on offensive military flights over Darfur. Though Britain and the new French government strongly support such action, the resolution will go nowhere without a change in Chinese policy. That's where the good news from Mr. Liu's news conference comes in. He declined to say that his government would veto a new resolution, and he was obliged to respond to the growing campaign to connect China's support for Sudan to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "Linking China's approach to the Darfur issue and the Olympic Games is totally untenable," he protested. And if China uses its veto to stop a new U.N. resolution? Its leaders should be made to wonder what will be "untenable" then.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company