China Steps Up Its Argument Over Darfur

Special envoy Liu Guijin suggested rights activists were out of line.
Special envoy Liu Guijin suggested rights activists were out of line. (Greg Baker - AP)
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By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 8, 2008

BEIJING, March 7 -- Liu Guijin, China's special envoy for Sudan, was fielding yet another question Friday on Darfur and the Olympics. Politics have no place in the Olympics, he told reporters, and it violates the Olympic spirit to claim that China has a duty to do more in the embattled western Sudanese region because Beijing is hosting the 2008 Games.

But this time, Liu had a new argument in his briefcase: President Bush agrees with China on this point. So does British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he said, not to mention French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Those world leaders have announced their willingness to attend a gala opening ceremony Aug. 8, he noted. If people of that caliber think Darfur is no reason to take the joy out of the Beijing Olympics, he suggested, then the human rights activists and Darfur campaigners must be out of line.

"More and more spokesmen and public figures have decided that politicization of the Olympic Games is not compatible with the Olympic spirit and that the Darfur question has no connection to the Olympic Games," he said.

Liu's comments, at a Foreign Ministry briefing, marked the latest salvo in a belated but increasingly active public diplomacy campaign by the Chinese government. In news conferences, statements and widely publicized actions, it has begun to duel openly with U.S. and European activists who assert that hosting the Games bestows on China a responsibility to improve its human rights record and work more forcefully to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

"Their attitude will go nowhere," Liu said.

Citing the decisions by Bush and other Western leaders also demonstrated how much comfort the Communist Party has taken in their willingness to overlook China's problems and join in a celebration that will focus on the remarkable progress here over the past three decades.

For the party, such international recognition that China is doing well under its stewardship is the main benefit of hosting the Olympics, according to Kang Xiaoguang, a sociologist and researcher at Tsinghua University. In that sense, the party itself has found political meaning in the Games. But it has moved to rebut those who seek to inject other political agendas less to its liking, including human rights and Darfur.

Liu, who was China's ambassador to South Africa before being appointed a special envoy last May, has played a key role in the campaign, tirelessly summoning reporters in Sudan, Europe and the United States to listen to China's side of the story. He returned Thursday night from a trip to Britain, France and Sudan that was punctuated at most stops by news conferences and speeches.

The recurring theme of his appearances is that China has been unfairly targeted on the issue of Darfur. "China has been using its influence to the largest extent possible to persuade the relevant parties to resolve the situation," Liu declared Friday.

Concern has risen in recent weeks as violence appears to have resumed in the region. As many as 450,000 people have died in fighting and from disease and 2.5 million have been displaced since 2003, when Darfur's black African residents rebelled against Sudan's Arab-led central government over land seizures and other abuses.

China was identified early on as an important player in the conflict. With a booming economy and soaring energy needs, it has been a major buyer of Sudanese oil. Seeking to lock in the oil supplies, it has also invested heavily in local infrastructure projects and is among the countries that sell weapons to the Sudanese military.

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